I developed this French version of chicken cacciatore from a recipe I found in Roy Andries de Groot’s Auberge Of The Flowering Hearth. De Groot’s recipe is for an old stewing hen or young rooster, but I find pheasants work just as well. If you use chicken, go to an Asian or Mexican market to buy a stewing hen if you can.
De Groot’s recipe is French, from Chartreuse, in the Alpine regions. Yet it is at its heart a version of the familiar chicken cacciatore, which all share certain similarities; my Italian version of pheasant cacciatore is close, but this French version is, as you might guess, a bit more refined.
It has tomatoes, yes, but also a little heavy cream. The French style also has Armagnac, a kind of brandy, and vermouth, as well as shallots.
All versions of cacciatore require mushrooms, and here I use fresh chanterelle mushrooms here, which are available at some farmer’s markets, but also online through Earthy Delights; that is where I bought mine when I first made this dish.
Another thing that makes the French version different is how you brown the chicken or pheasant: The name “rousille” comes from local dialect, which means “slightly burnt.” And yes, you brown the hell out of the meat before simmering it in tomatoes and brandy.
I use only legs, wings and thighs here — save the breasts for another dish.
Serves 4-6, and can be doubled
- legs, wings and thighs of 2 pheasants or chickens
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 pound smoky bacon, cut into batons or 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/2 pound chanterelle or other fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 10-12 small boiling onions or shallots, peeled but whole
- 1-2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup Armagnac or other brandy
- 1/2 cup vermouth
- 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons corn starch or arrowroot
- Chervil or parsley to garnish
- Salt the pheasant or chicken pieces well and let them come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
- In a large, heavy frying pan, get the olive oil hot over medium-high heat. Pat the pheasant pieces dry and brown them well. Do not crowd the pan and adjust the heat so you get a good sear without scorching.
- As the pheasant pieces are done, put them into a pot or Dutch oven with a lid. When they’re all browned, pour in the Armagnac and bring to a boil. Add the crushed tomatoes, turn the heat down to a bare simmer and cover.
- Wipe the frying pan out well. Bring it to high heat and add the chanterelles. Shake the pan constantly until the mushrooms begin to lose their water. They should squeak in the pan until then. Dislodge any that get stuck on the pan with a wooden spoon.
- Once the mushrooms have lost most of their water, add the butter and stir-fry until they begin to brown. Sprinkle them with salt. Once they look lovely, add them to the pheasant.
- Add the boiling onions or shallots to the pan, adding more butter if needed. Brown them well and add them to the pot with the pheasant.
- Add the bacon and turn the heat down to medium. Fry the bacon until crispy, then add to the pot.
- Pour the vermouth into the pot, bring it to a strong simmer, then drop the heat to low, cover and cook for at least an hour. An old pheasant or rooster will take longer. Check every half hour — you want the meat to almost fall off the bone.
- Taste the sauce for salt, and add if needed.
- When the meat is ready turn off the heat and ladle the juices into another pot. Mix the corn starch with the heavy cream well, then whisk it into the juices over medium-low heat. Bring it to a simmer and let it cook down until the sauce can coat the back of a spoon.
- Pour it back into the Dutch oven with the meat and toss in lots of chopped chervil or parsley.
- Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta or crusty bread, and a light red, such as a Beaujolais or Grenache, or a dry rose or big white, such as a Viognier.