My major as an undergraduate was music history.
Before you start thinking “boy, what a smack in the face to her parents,” it wasn’t my original plan. I entered school as a music production & engineering major, but three semesters in and one too many pieces of solder in my eye later, I realized technology, engineering, and ultimately recording music was not for me. I wanted to make and process music with my voice and brain, not with microphones and a computer.
So I was faced with the question of how I could change my plans without leaving the music department and still finish my degree in four years. Music History was essentially my only feasible option, and I was a-okay with that. Sure it may be one of those majors where the last question on the exit exam is, “can you say, ‘you want fries with that?'” but as far as I’m concerned, any degree you get becomes what you endeavor to make of it. I fully intended to go immediately on to graduate school, and that’s what I did. And now I have a job in the field and my rent payment doesn’t make me cry. (I just whimper a little).
I learned a lot of things as a music history major, one being how to speak Italian. I consider that one of the more valuable skills I took away from college, because let me tell you in between the bits of practical knowledge I acquired, there was a hell of a lot of trivia.
Cacciatore is an Italian word for “hunter.” Evidently hunters used to take the day’s catch of rabbits or whatever else and stew them with some tomatoes and peppers. I can’t verify the accuracy of this information as having lived in Italy, I have a hard time imagining any Italian exerting the energy it takes to hunt a rabbit.
Similary, una caccia means “a hunt” or “a chase.” This I learned in one of my renaissance history classes. It is a 14th century vocal music form in which two voices imitate each other while a third voice just kind of drones along. And then they all come together periodically for the “chorus,” or ritornello as it’s formally called. Do you know how often I’ve used this knowledge? Once. Just now. To talk about Chicken Cacciatore.
I’ve mentioned how I’ve been all about my crockpot lately. Throw all the ingredients in on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ve taken care of dinner for the rest of the week. Traditional chicken cacciatore involves dredging and browning bone-in chicken pieces before deglazing the pot with wine, then stirring in vegetables and herbs and finishing it in the oven. I don’t know, but when I make a point of dredging and searing bone-in, skin-on chicken, it’s to create super crispy skin. When you dump wine and tomatoes over it you just have stew, which is obviously what we’re aiming for here, but as far as I’m concerned the same flavor can be obtained much more easily. Plus, I don’t really want to pick bones out of my stew.
Boneless, skinless chicken and a crockpot just make things simpler. Choosing the easier route is molto Italiano if you think about it. I do like to start by browning the chicken and deglazing the skillet with wine because it really does improve the flavor, but I’ve also made this by just throwing everything straight into the pot and it’s still good. If you have the time, I think it’s worth taking the extra step. After that, the vegetables, tomatoes, and seasonings get tossed right in, no sautéing necessary. Set the heat, and a few hours later come back to stir in a little corn starch for thickening. Once you do so, boil some pasta or slice a loaf a bread, pour yourself a glass of the white wine you’ll have leftover, and dinner is served!
I also have to mention, this stew will make your kitchen smell like a pizza restaurant in the best way possible. In fact, it tastes so similar to really great pizza that I swear it tasted like I’d added mozzarella to it. You’ve heard of “phantom phone syndrome,” right? Maybe I have “phantom pizza syndrome.” Oh well, I’m not sure that’s even a bad thing. If you love pizza, pasta, Italian food, and easy dinners, this Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore is for you!
Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore
Yields 3-4 servings
A saucy Italian chicken stew with tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms made effortless by the crockpot.
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces (I use a mixture of breasts and thighs)
- Salt & pepper
- 1 Tbs. (14g) olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 bell pepper, cut into diced (any color, or use a mix!)
- 4 oz. cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
- Fresh basil, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high. Sear the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, without moving it around to much, until both golden brown. Use tongs to transfer the chicken pieces to the bowl of your crockpot.
Turn the heat to medium and add the garlic to the same skillet. Stir for only 20-30 seconds, then pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. Transfer the garlic and liquid to the crockpot, scraping up any browned bits.
From there, layer all the vegetables, herbs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a hefty dash of salt and pepper into the crockpot. Stir to combine. Place the lid on your crockpot and cook on high for 4 or so hours, or low for 5-6.
About twenty minutes before you are ready to eat, remove a bit of the liquid from the pot and place it in a small bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch to create a slurry, then pour it back into the stew. Stir to distribute. Replace the lid and allow the broth to thicken for 15-20 minutes.
Serve with bread or over pasta, garnished with fresh basil if desired.