While walking through the PSU market this fall, Morgan was inspired by the profusion of wild mushrooms available. He instantly began talking about putting together the best chicken cacciatore ever using a variety of these wonderful mushrooms.
Special Announcement! Chicken Cacciatore Portland Style will be included in our Mago Markets and Meals book coming out next year. Get more information here.
In addition to the mushrooms, the PSU market had some beautiful Roma tomatoes that Morgan used as the basis of his sauce. Unfortunately, the PSU market did not have the chicken thighs that Morgan wanted to include in the dish, so we went to our local Fred Meyer for that and the other vegetables unavailable at the PSU market this time of year.
When we had finished shopping, we had assembled a beautiful set of ingredients.
- 6 bone-in chicken thighs with the skin left on
- About 1 1/2 pounds fresh wild mushrooms: we used chanterelles, porcini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms cut into similar sized pieces like halfs, thirds, etc. depending on the size of the original ‘shrooms
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- A couple pounds of fresh, very ripe Roma or other sauce tomatoes rinsed and cut in halves
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
- Regular olive oil
- 2 large carrots cut into quarter inch rounds
- 3 large stalks of celery cut into quarter inch slices
- Assorted fresh herbs: we used rosemary, thyme, sage, and Italian parsley tied into a bouquet garni
- A large sweet red pepper pealed and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips
- Onions cut in 1/4 inch dice: we used 4 small purple onions
- A glass of red wine
- 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano (preferably Pantescan)
- 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
Q&A on those Ingredients
Patti: Does it matter what mushrooms you use?
Morgan: Yes, you want that wonderful woodsy taste to permeate the dish. That’s why I chose the mushrooms I did. But don’t get stressed if you can only find one type of wild mushroom or have to go exclusively with commercial variants like cremini bumped up with dried porcini.
Patti: If you have fresh porcini, why are the dried ones important?
Morgan: You cannot beat fresh porcini for that incredible meaty taste and silky texture, but for deep woodsy fungus funk you need to soak dried porcini and then re-concentrate the liquid into the rehydrated mushrooms as well as add some concentrated soaking liquid to the sauce itself. The use of both fresh and dried mushrooms deepens and extends the flavor profile of this dish.
Patti: Why chicken thighs rather than a whole, cut up chicken?
Morgan: It is a trade-off between ease of cooking and a bit more flavor from an entire chicken. The thighs are very easy to sear and cook uniformly unlike a cut up chicken where the white meat and bony parts will cook a lot faster than the dark meat.
Patti: What do you look for in a tomato that you’re going to use for sauce?
Morgan: First it has to be a sauce tomato. That is to say one that has more pulp than a beefsteak or heirloom tomato which have a lot of liquid and are primarily for eating raw. Next the tomatoes must be very ripe, as in almost rotten. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is critical. In fact, you can often get what are considered over-ripe tomatoes for a significant discount in bulk because vendors are trying to move them.
Patti: What is Pantescan oregano?
Morgan: Pantelleria is small island off the coast of Italy between Sicily and Tunisia. It has the perfect environment for capers, the Zibibbo grapes used to make the world class Passito sweet wine, and oregano. The oregano from Pantelleria is very fragrant with a more intense flavor than either Greek or Mexican oregano. You might find it in the stores of Trapani, but you’ll most likely have to go to Pantelleria to collect it yourself.
Mago Tip: Like most recipes, this one will benefit greatly by having everything prepared in advance of cooking. There are a lot of ingredients to this dish, so your mise en place is important. You will be glad that you did since the dish will come together almost effortlessly if you prep everything in advance.
Get Started with the Dried Mushrooms
Put the dried porcini in two cups of hot water and soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove the dried porcini from their soaking water and strain the water through cheese cloth or a coffee filter. Put the liquid and the mushrooms into a small skillet and over high heat reduce the liquid by half. When a cup of the liquid is left, remove the mushrooms from the heat and set aside. Once they have cooled somewhat, chop the rehydrated porcini into pieces similar in size to the fresh ones.
On to the Tomatoes
While the dried porcini are soaking, put the tomatoes into a large pot with a lid and add 2 tablespoons or so of EVOO as well as a large pinch of salt. Cover and cook the tomatoes over medium high heat until they have completely broken down, stirring them occasionally. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill into a bowl and set aside.
Prep the Thighs
Cover the bottom of a non-sick skillet with two tablespoons of regular olive oil and bring it to heat over medium high. Put the chicken thighs in and brown them on both sides. Remove the browned thighs to a platter and set aside.
Time for the Vegetables
In a pan or deep skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients, sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat until translucent. Add the peppers and cook, stirring for a couple minutes until they begin to soften. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another five minutes. Finally, add all the fresh mushrooms. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the mushrooms release their juices (ten to twenty minutes).
By this point you will almost certainly have drunk the glass of red wine in your mise en place, so refill it and deglaze the pan, leaving the ingredients in there. When the wine has evaporated, you are ready to pull it all together.
Pull It All Together
Add the processed tomatoes, the rehydrated porcini, and their reduced soaking liquid to the pan. Next, add the chicken thighs and any juices they have shed on their platter. Finally, add the bouquet garni, oregano, pepper flakes, and salt to taste.
Simmer this until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Cooking time at this stage depends on what you are looking for in terms of texture and flavor. Thirty minutes will yield fully cooked thighs with a bit of chew and a sauce where the wild mushrooms dominate the flavor profile. An hour plus will yield meltingly soft chicken almost falling off the bones and a sauce in which the sweetness of the tomatoes and the aromatic veggies share the culinary stage with the mushrooms.
If you get the chicken done to your liking and the sauce is still too thin, take the chicken out of the pan and reduce the sauce over higher heat until it reaches the desired consistency. If the sauce thickens faster than the chicken is cooking, you can loosen up the sauce with chicken stock and let the thighs continue cooking to the desired texture. Do not use water, more tomatoes or wine to dilute the sauce because that is precisely what those ingredients will do and you will end up with thickened mediocre sauce. Chicken stock will maintain the sauce’s depth of flavor while allowing the chicken to cook a while longer. Once you get chicken and sauce cooked to your liking, adjust the seasoning in the sauce before serving.
This is a hearty dish that goes well with red wine. We drank a 2005 Pietrafitta Chianti with this dish and it was superb with soft tannins, forward fruit, and a long seductive finish.
Serve it Up and Enjoy the Praise of your Guests