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Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I do a lot of comfort food with big, flavorful, stew-y things loaded with tomatoes and herbs and some sort of meat. In this case the meat is pheasant, and what better dish than pheasant cacciatore?

Hunter’s style. The French call it chasseur, the Spanish cazadores, the Italians cacciatore. This dish in its variations exists in all three countries.

But it is usually done with chicken, which makes me wonder: Is this the meal the failed hunter gets from his wife when he returns empty-handed? “Oh, Enzo!” she cries. “I am so sad for you — I’ll go kill another chicken for dinner.” Is this a meal eaten in sullen reflection of missed shots, sore feet, or birds flushed just a little too far away?

Probably not. I do not know the actual history of hunter’s style chicken, but I am guessing it is an outgrowth of the 17th century — and was initially done with pheasants or partridges. If I am right, cacciatore is a fascinating amalgam — tomatoes imported from the New World, pheasants from China.

Another possibility is that this is what the housewife (or servant, more likely, given the European hunting tradition), stewed for several hours while the hunters were out chasing pheasants or deer, making this chicken stew a welcome-home meal. If anyone has any insight into the history of cacciatore, I’m all ears.

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What makes chasseur or cacciatore or cazadores unique? As far as I can tell, it requires these things:

This dish is so satisfying, the way only the combination of tomatoes, wine, mushrooms and meat can be. I’d used pheasant legs and wings from birds that had hung for three days, and they were tender and deeper-tasting than any pheasant I’d eaten before. So I can happily say my experiment with hanging pheasants has, thus far, been a success.

Could you use chicken here? You bet, but please do your best to locate a stewing hen; try a Mexican or Asian market. These older hens taste better and can stand up to stewing better than the fryers or roasters, which in my opinion are too young.

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What sort of mushrooms? A variety. Buttons are fine, but bolster them with some good dried ones. What sort of wine? A dry white: Think Pinot Grigio rather than a buttery Chardonnay. Herbs? Definitely sage and rosemary, but you could play with thyme, savory, oregano and parsley, too.

Colour On Size Red School Ties Stripe Block Clip amp; Black Variations amp; Finally, you must — must — have good bread to eat with this. If you are really hungry, add a big dollop of polenta, too. Buon appetito!

4.75 from 4 votes
Pheasant Cacciatore
Prep Time
20 mins
Red Variations Black Size School Ties On Clip amp; Stripe amp; Colour Block Cook Time
2 hrs
Total Time
2 Clip Red Black School Block On Size Variations Stripe Ties Colour amp; amp; hrs 20 mins
 
This is my take on a classic: Chicken cacciatore, or cazadores, or chasseur — Italy, Spain and France all have versions of this dish. Only I am doing it with what the hunter was probably going out for: pheasant. To get the best result from this recipe, use young pheasants; if you’ve shot some from a game club, they are perfect here. You can buy pheasant in good grocery stores, too, such as Raley’s in Sacramento where I live.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Ingredients
  • 2 pheasants, cut into serving pieces
  • 1/4 pound pancetta or 4 strips bacon
  • 3 tablesppons olive oil (or pheasant or chicken fat)[/ingredient]
  • 1 Stripe Colour Size amp; School Clip amp; On Block Red Ties Black Variations chopped celery stalk
  • 1 chopped carrot
  • 5 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 onion, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 quart crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon crushed juniper berries (optional)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 ounceMen's Blue Wedding for Comfortable Style Occasion Necktie Light Stripe and Formal XDXDWEWERT Casual Party HYEwO dried mushrooms (about a handful)
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, any kind
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons minced parsley
Variations Block School On Ties amp; Size Red amp; Black Clip Stripe Colour Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. amp; School Clip Black Stripe Red Colour amp; On Block Variations Size Ties If using, cut the pancetta into little batons about 1/4 inch thick. In a large braising pan or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil or pheasant or chicken fat over medium heat and cook the pancetta or bacon. Remove and reserve.
  3. Add the pheasant pieces and brown them well. Take your time and do it in batches. Remove the pheasant pieces as they brown.
  4. Add the carrot, celery, onions and the fresh mushrooms and turn the heat up to high. Saute them until the onions are wilted and are beginning to brown. Add more oil if needed. When they begin to brown, add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the herbs and the dried mushrooms and the white wine and turn up the heat to maximum. Stir well. Let the wine cook down by half. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Add some salt if needed. Add the bacon and the pheasant pieces, skin side up. Do not submerge the pheasant, just nestle the pieces into the sauce so the skin stays out of the liquid.
  6. Cover and cook in the oven for 45 minutes. Check to see of the meat is thinking about falling off the bone. Sometimes with a young pheasant all it takes is 45 minutes. An hour or more is typical. When the meat is as tender as you want, remove the cover from the pot and cook until the skin crisps, about 30-45 more minutes.
  7. Move the pheasant pieces to a plate. Add the parsley to the pot and mix to combine.
  8. To serve, ladle some of the sauce out, top with a pheasant piece and serve with either polenta or a good crusty bread. I like a dry rose or a light red like a Sangiovese for this dish.
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Comments

  1. Hank,

    What are your thoughts on using a darker meat such as greater prairie chicken for this recipe?

    Thanks

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    Wow. This was great. My wife and daughters loved this dish. They all cleaned their bowls completely. My wife even took some to work the next day.

    I served mine over wide egg noodles because that is what I had around.

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