Chicken cacciatore

The appearance of smoked oysters, Red Tulip After Dinner Mints or a roasted chicken signalled only one thing in my early years – a special occasion. An odd combination you may observe, but the common denominator was price tag. By economic necessity, these expensive  indulgences had to be restricted to events involving guests or calendar holidays. Today, the oyster packets are tossed into the trolley without hesitation and sadly, the individually enveloped mints are no longer. The chicken, however, once a precious commodity, due to modern farming techniques is now regarded as one of our affordable protein options and a regular inclusion in the weekly shop.

In my mother’s rural growing years, my grandfather would ‘harvest’ one of his birds for the celebration table. By the time I was growing up in the suburbs, backyard chook houses had become redundant, so to secure a bird, there was financial outlay to be considered. Today, my children witness me unwrapping white paper deli parcels of select chicken joints with neither an axe nor king’s ransom to be had.

While on the subject of economy, chicken performs beautifully in our kitchens. As practised cooks we come to learn, it is the bone centred cuts of the bird that give biggest flavour –  and require smallest outlay. Some slow gentle cooking is all that is required to produce succulent tender meat playing an excellent host to all of the vegetables in its surrounding sauce. Every culture and region has its method for ‘hot-potting’ its chicken and vegetables, but it is the Italians I turn to in these circumstances. Chicken cacciatore has been served from my kitchen on occasions too numerous to contemplate, but the result is always delicious and cost effective.

olive oil
8 chicken drumsticks
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 green capsicum, sliced
1 red capsicum, sliced
200g button mushrooms, thickly sliced
a small handful of black olives, pitted
440g can whole peeled tomatoes
250ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
fresh or dried oregano
2 bay leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Heat the oil in a heavy-based, oven proof pan and brown chicken well. Remove chicken and set aside. Add some extra oil to the pan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the capsicums, and mushrooms and cook for 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the olives and pour over the tomatoes and stock. Mix well and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and season well with salt and pepper. Add the oregano and bay leaves and cover pan. Place pan in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve over steamed rice.

If you don’t have an oven-proof frying pan, simply transfer into a casserole dish for baking.

Italian Chicken Casserole

Postscript: Some may consider that today’s cook has the advantage with access and affordability. I think otherwise. With limits on supply comes resourcefulness, prudence and conservation – not to mention, my grandfather’s completely natural product.

gardening · recipes


Bay leaves

An unsung hero from the herb clan that any braise or casserole worth its salt would be lost without. Yet rarely does this leaf receive a sliver of the attention it deserves – while pantries across the globe hoard them in packets and jars. Seldom appearing in the weekly shop, yet always managing to be on hand – the bay leaf, our culinary Winter herb.

It is not uncommon for stock of milk, butter or Milo to exhaust in this household, but bay leaves are forever in ready supply. Other than the fact that two are only ever required for a dish, my mother is the keeper of a bay tree and visits regularly. (We are therefore secure in the knowledge that should we fall on difficult economic times, we shall never be without them). She recently delivered a branch, which has been stripped of its foliage, which now sits drying in an open jar. It is quite lovely to reach in and pluck out a few to pop into the stew du jour.

The law of bay leaf use however, is that prior to ‘plating up’ they must be removed from the dish, as the nature of their flavour enhancing role is of background chorus rather than centre stage. Unfortunately busy cooks will forget laws. So in response to this, under this roof new dinner table lore has evolved –  and is evidenced by the exclamation, “Look, I got the lucky bay leaf!”

For your next ‘stew du jour’ this Moroccan-style Oxtail braise will ensure two of your lucky leaves will be put to good use.

ox tail braise

3kg oxtail pieces trimmed of fat
plain flour for dredging
1 tbsp ground ginger
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
8 cloves
800g can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
zest of 1/2 an orange
2 cups beef stock

  1. Mix together the flour and ginger and coat the oxtail pieces. Dust off excess.
  2. Heat oil in large heavy based pan and add meat in small batches to brown all over. Transfer to slow cooker.
  3. Add onions, garlic, celery, cinnamon and cloves and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, orange zest and stock. Cook for another couple of minutes.
  5.  Pour this mixture over the ox tail and cook on low for up to 6 hours or until meat is tender.

(This can also be done in a casserole dish in the oven. Simply add 1 1/2 cups of red wine with the stock and cook at 160 degrees celsius for 2 hours or until meat is tender and falling off the bone.)

Dried bay leaves

Postscript: This post is dedicated to Z and her new slow cooker.