Friday, April 12, 2013

Dump and Go Chicken Cacciatore

March 25, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore over thin spaghetti
Almost No-Knead Bread
Garden Salad
2008 Tré California Merlot

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore from 101 Cooking for Two
Almost No-Knead Bread from Cook's Illustrated

There seem to be two different uses for the slow cooker (a. k. a. Crock Pot, though that's a brand name). The first is as a tool to fix meals quickly and easily: open some cans, cut up some meat, dump it all in the slow cooker, turn it on, and walk away. The second is to use it as a tool for cooking foods for a long time, but only after spending time preparing ingredients to fully develop their flavor, as in my favorite Beef Burgundy.

This recipe for Chicken Cacciatore fit clearly in the dump and go category. Sometimes, that's what you need. We had spent the weekend in San Diego for the Destination Imagination State Finals tournament. After two long days of driving and a long day at the tournament, I took Monday off from work to rest up and get caught up. That meant a dinner which could be fixed without spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

I made a few changes to the recipe published by Dr. Dan in his blog. Instead of 2 pounds chicken breast I used 1 pound of breast meat, which I cut into smaller pieces, and 1 pound of dark meat, which was already in reasonably sized portions. I added ¼ teaspoon of dry thyme and I included the optional ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

To accompany the Cacciatore I made a loaf of no-knead bread. While making bread would seem to be at odds with the goal of spending a minimum amount of time in the kitchen, it is not. This bread does take some time to make, but it takes very little hands-on time. Mixing the ingredients takes but a few minutes, then kneading it and shaping it take a few more, but other than putting into the oven and taking it out, that's about all. I didn't have any mild lager beer to add to the dough, as called for in the recipe, so I substituted some porter that I had. This resulted in a slightly darker crumb with a nuttier, less tangy flavor. I also prepared a garden salad using the fresh vegetables we had on hand.

This recipe met the goal of providing a hearty meal with a minimum effort. It wasn't the most flavorful version of Chicken Cacciatore but then that wasn't the goal. If I were to make it again I would omit the red pepper flakes. It's amazing how much heat such a small quantity of these flakes can impart to a dish, they effectively masked many of the other flavors. I might also omit the dark meat. It was so  over cooked by the time the white meat was ready that it was hard to find any reasonable-sized pieces of dark meat in the finished recipe. The white meat was tender but I thought it was a little dry, I think it was done before we were ready to eat and so maybe overcooked a bit.

This recipe made a lot of food for two people. We reheated it in the microwave and served it with pasta. It would have been nice if we'd had more big pieces of chicken to eat as the dark meat was all but invisible, as it had disintegrated. Including the original dinner, we had this for four meals, with a little left over after that which we discarded.

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