Looking for a delicious Italian meal to feed the family? Give this chicken cacciatore recipe a try! Just sear some thigh pieces until golden brown, and then braise them in a rustic tomato sauce. For a complete dinner, serve with tender pasta, rice, sauteed vegetables, or a fresh salad.
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Chicken cacciatore is a classic Italian dish prepared hunter-style using fresh vegetables and dark meat that simmer in flavorful tomato sauce. The robust thigh pieces are ideal for braising until soft and enjoying when the meat is practically falling off the bone. The natural acidity in the tomatoes helps to tenderize the proteins quickly.
For maximum flavor, sear the bone-in chicken thighs until the skin is crispy, then finish with a gentle cooking method. Simply submerge the meat under the sauce, cover it, and place it in the oven. This process allows the flavors to distribute and infuse together. It’s a hearty meal that I like to serve with pasta and a nice bottle of wine.
Thighs vs. breasts
The best cut for braising is bone-in chicken thighs. There’s more connective tissue and fat throughout, which creates a barrier that prevents moisture loss. The braising liquid helps to transform the collagen into rich gelatin, softening the meat and making the sauce richer.
The bone itself is full of flavor and gives the sauce more depth. You can also add drumsticks if you like in addition to the thighs. Nothing is stopping you from using chicken breast. Although it lacks slightly in flavor, it will cook much quicker.
Searing adds more flavors
Chicken thighs have a lot of fat, so trim off the excess portions. Otherwise, the meal will be too greasy. I prefer to keep the skin on as searing it adds more flavor to the dish. Cook both sides while rendering the fat into the pan. Save a few tablespoons of the fat for sauteing the vegetables. It’s delicious!
Saute the vegetables and aromatics
The base of a traditional cacciatore recipe includes minced garlic, onions, bell peppers, and herbs. I saute the aromatics and dried Italian seasoning in the chicken fat, which helps draw out the fat-soluble flavors in the oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme.
The chopped red and green peppers briefly cook until crisp-tender to give a nice bit of texture. If you like a spicier sauce, I recommend adding ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes when sauteeing the herbs.
Make a tomato sauce
I use three canned tomato products for a quick sauce with a balanced sweet and acidic fruit flavor; paste, crushed, and diced. Tomato paste is concentrated in taste, adding a hint of sweetness and helps to thicken the sauce. Crushed tomatoes are more pureed in texture. Some brands have a chunkier style, creating a stirrable base.
I like to have more significant pieces of tomatoes for a rustic appearance and bursts of flavor. Diced tomatoes do the trick. Stir all the tomato products into the vegetables, along with wine, chicken broth, and capers. I add the mushrooms last because they shrink down during braising.
Adding in ½ cup of dry white wine adds a touch of acidity and brightness to the braise. A buttery chardonnay or citrusy pinot grigio works well. If you want a more spicy oaky and tannic taste, use a dry red wine like Chianti or pinot noir. Deeper in flavor but still light compared to more full-bodied wines like cabernet sauvignon.
Capers add a pop of flavor
Capers add a salty and tangy taste to the tomato sauce. These small little spheres are packed with intense flavor, so you don’t need a lot. After infusing with the braising liquid, they have a salty and vinegary taste when bitten.
If you don’t like capers, olives make an excellent substitute like kalamata, green or black. Add two tablespoons of sliced olives and a few whole ones for garnish.
Braising in the oven
After making the tomato sauce, add the chicken back to the pan. I like to use a heavy dutch oven or braiser to do the job. Submerge the pieces so that they can thoroughly cook in the sauce.
Briefly simmer the pot to raise the temperature of the sauce, so it isn’t cold. A 350-degree oven offers a consistent environment for gentle braising. Cover the pan and cook until the chicken is tender. This process will take about an hour.
Braising on the stovetop
Alternatively, you can braise the chicken on the stovetop. However, it requires a little more oversight. The burners create hot spots in the pan, making heating less consistent. Just make sure to monitor and stir the sauce every 10 minutes to redistribute the heat. Keep the burner on a low simmer, as it will heat quickly in the enclosed pot.
What to serve this with
- Any type of pasta, like spaghetti, pappardelle, or angel hair
- Spaghetti squash for a gluten-free and low carb option
- A fresh Caesar salad
- Garlic bread or focaccia
Cook thighs to a higher temperature
Chicken thighs are more tender when cooked to a higher temperature since it contains more connective tissue. It needs to reach at least 175-degrees to cook safely. This recipe will cook it closer to 195-degrees after about 1 hour in the 210-degree braising liquid. This range allows the collagen to convert into soft gelatin.
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- 4 chicken thighs, bone-in skin on, or 6 smaller pieces
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, divided, plus more for seasoning
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, ½-inch dice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings, dried
- 1 cup red bell pepper, ½-inch dice
- 1 cup green bell pepper, ½-inch dice
- ½ cup dry white wine, chardonnay or pinot grigio
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes, canned
- 14.5 ounces diced tomatoes, canned, do not drain
- ½ cup chicken broth, or stock
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 8 ounces brown mushrooms, quartered
- 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil
- Set the oven rack to the lower third position. Preheat to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Trim any excess fat or skin from the chicken thighs. In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Generously season both sides of the chicken.
- Heat a large 12-inch oven-proof skillet or dutch over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot, carefully add in the chicken thighs, skin-side down. Sear for 5 minutes until crispy and browned. Flip and cook for 2 minutes, turn off the heat. Transfer to a clean plate, leave 2 tablespoons of the fat drippings in the pan. Alternatively, drain the drippings and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.
- Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and Italian seasonings. Saute for 2 minutes until the onions are crisp-tender. Add the red and green bell peppers, saute for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and saute for 1 minute.
- Add the wine. Stir and simmer until almost completely evaporated, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes with the juice, chicken broth, and capers. Stir in the mushrooms.
- Add the chicken back to the pan, turn to coat in the sauce, and leave it skin-side facing up, simmer for 5 minutes.
- Cover the skillet with a lid and carefully transfer the pot to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, about 60 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley and basil, serve hot.
- Using Chicken Breasts: Check the chicken after 10 minutes of braising, and then every 5 minutes after, until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºF).
- Using Red Wine: Use a dry red wine like Chianti or pinot noir.
- Stovetop Braising: After simmering the sauce for 5 minutes, cover and reduce heat to low. Stir the sauce every 10 minutes to prevent burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the meat reaches 170ºF (77ºC).
- For a Thicker Sauce: Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, cover with foil to keep warm. Heat the sauce over medium-high heat, stir and cook until the sauce reduces to the desired consistency.
- For a Spicy Sauce: Add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes when sauteing the Italian seasonings in the fat.
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