Over the centuries, chefs have given their creations fanciful names to invoke the exotic, or occasionally the humorous, and to entice the jaded palate. A catchy title suggests the chef’s special knowledge, or at least a knowing wit. Several plausible ingredients worked into the dish enhance the alleged authenticity. Classics include Chinese Beggar’s Chicken, incased in wet clay that bakes to a brick-like shell, Spaghetti alla Putanesca (prostitute-style pasta), Shepherd’s Pie, Wine Merchant’s Sauce, and of course Strozza Preti, a charmingly twisted Italian pasta meaning “priest stranglers.”
Hunters and hunting have often been invoked in cooking when game or the arrival of colder weather gave the excuse, sort of Woods-to-Table cuisine. Hunting and its mystique are as ancient as humankind, first using spears and slings, then bows and arrows, then crossbows, and finally shotguns and rifles. And hunting does at least generally produce food. Yet, since at least Roman times, hunting has also been a sport, and sometimes battlefield skills practice, of the nobility, the landed gentry and the idle rich. Oscar Wilde branded one such non-sustenance exercise, British fox hunting, as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”
Typically, foods attributed to hunting are rustic and hearty-flavored and contain meat. French cuisine includes hunter style (“chasseur”) beef, chicken, quail, sauce, and even crêpes. Italy has numerous “alla cacciatora” dishes. Bavaria has “Landjäger (country hunter), a heavily smoked, dry sausage. Poland boasts Bigos, a hunter’s stew. Even the wonderful plum pudding that my New England Irish mother made every Christmas was called “Hunter’s Pudding” in the original Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
“Jägermeister” (master of the hunt) is the German herbal liqueur once fashionable here among young urbanites more likely to have driven their all-terrain vehicles to the bar than to the woods. That iconic Jägermeister label evokes St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters, a 7th century Frankish nobleman who, legend says, had a religious conversion when he beheld the Cross of Christ gleaming between the antlers of a stag he was about to shoot.
French “Poulet sauté Chasseur,” chicken cooked hunter’s style, is hearty and delightful in cold weather. The original rabbit or wild fowl for this type of dish was likely to have actually been hunted in the wild. The stew inevitably includes mushrooms, which the hunter, carrying his kill, would thoughtfully have gathered from the forest floor, plus tarragon and other fresh herbs that he picked along the path home. It’s unclear where our hunter found his cooking wine or tomato. But, hey, it’s French. Don’t push it.
Despite its fanciful name and dubious story, this classical French dish is delicious. Serve it with scalloped or au gratin potatoes or with buttered noodles. Add crusty bread, a simple green salad and a light-bodied red or hearty rosé wine.
The recipe serves six. Bon appétit, bonne chasse!
Poulet Chasseur — French “Hunter-Style” Chicken
4 pounds chicken thighs with skin and bones (or 2 pounds boneless, skinless thigh)
2 tablespoons flour (or 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, if avoiding gluten)
Salt and pepper for seasoning the chicken
1 large carrot
1 large stick celery
1 medium onion
3/4 pound mushrooms
2 medium-large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat or olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth, low salt
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 large bay leaf
3-inch piece of fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoon tomato paste (freeze the rest)
1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon or parsley for finishing
For whole thighs, remove skin and excess fat. (Render the fat and skin if desired for cooking grease.) Cut thighs in half, through the bone, with a cleaver or heavy knife. If using boneless skinless thighs, cut them in half. Generously salt and pepper chicken pieces on both sides, then dust them with flour or cornstarch. Set aside.
Dice peeled carrot, celery, onion, and mushrooms into 1/4-inch dice. (Alternatively, coarsely chop, separately, in a food processor.) Crush, peel, and mince garlic.
In a large Dutch oven or casserole, heat the rendered chicken fat or olive oil to medium high. Saute part of the chicken at a time on both sides until golden and remove to a bowl.
Then add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and saute carrot, celery, onion, mushrooms and garlic, scraping bottom of pan frequently. When vegetables are softened and just beginning to brown, stir in the wine and cook it down slightly. Then add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and tomato paste and fry 1/2 minute, stirring.
Add previously cooked chicken and any juices. Stir to moisten, then simmer covered, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan occasionally, until chicken is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add a little water if sauce becomes too dry. Taste sauce and add salt as needed.
Serve now, or cool, refrigerate, and reheat later. Check salt, and stir in most of the tarragon or parsley before serving. Dust the remainder on top.
Tim Dondero is Executive Chef at Donderos’ Kitchen, and has a recipe blog at timdonderosrecipes.blogspot.com. He retired as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control