Retro chicken hits the spot – 40 years on

It says that Robert Carrier’s Great Dishes of the World was published in 1967, which is probably when I bought it. But he’d started writing in the Sunday Times before that and in those days (pre-Murdoch and its many rightward swings) I was an avid reader. So, it may have been even earlier when I made my first dish of chicken cacciatore, and it’s been recycled ever since, as basic a dish for chicken as doing a stir fry.
Of course it’s never the same every time you cook it, partly because you never mean to cook it: I mean, who would serve such a retro dish these days? Us of course.
I can’t check the great man’s recipe ‘cos it’s in a box of books whilst the conservatory is painted, but they all have the same thrust. Take large retro Le Creuset casserole (without handle type). Brown off the chicken – it can be a whole one in eight pieces, whole breasts, pieces eg chopped breast and thigh, any combination will do. As usual, don’t be tempted to use cheap and nasty for this, it’ll just be stringy and chewy, but a top of the range, corn fed organic is over the top, it’s subtlety will simply be lost. Set chicken aside. Then soften onion and an excess of garlic, adding red and green pepper, again slices, chunks, whatever. Add the chicken back into the pan and give a good glug of red wine, boil most off.
Now to tomatoes: some no doubt suggest the real thing but here it’s a waste of effort (considerable to peel the things) and you don’t get the taste. Napolina is the brand for my money, a bit more than the own brands (13p for a tin of tomatoes, who you kidding?) but a great taste. And you need tomato paste as well.
Somehow I always end up with more sauce than it needs, but don’t worry too much, any left over will make an instant pasta dish.
Now for flavouring: basil is a must, and lots of freshly chopped parsley. You can add chopped mushrooms, or a dash of mushroom ketchup. If you’ve used cheap tomatoes you may need a hint of sugar, and a glug of balsamic if the wine didn’t enrich enough. Lots of seasoning too. I am sure there’s a refined version of this to be had in Italy where each delicate flavour settles on the palate, but in 60’s Britain we needed impact, so go for it.
Finally, cook off in a medium oven: you want the chicken to be intensely flavoured and the sauce rich and reduced. Whether you add black olives before you put it in the oven, or 20 minutes from the end is a matter of taste again, as is stoned or not. I love the rich olive taste so it’s stones in, and straight in for me and watch the fillings.
What to eat with it? A mash of some sorts is great in the winter: potato and celeriac, creamed potato. For a Saturday lunch how about baked potato? Even chips: my first experience of casserole and chips was in a French restaurant in Stratford upon Avon circa 1966 and it quite blew me away.
Pasta if obvious is good, but something that’s going to catch the sauce, so shells or penne rather than long straight stuff. And us last night? Dietary steamed veg, cauliflower, tiny carrots and broccoli. Great.

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