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RBR Tailgating: Grilled Chicken Cacciatore

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Taking a traditional classic from the hunting fields of Italy to the football fields of the SEC, with a plea to the powers that be.

I feel like I let the team down last year against Ole Miss.

I had a memory of some bizarrely good tacos I had at a Taco Bell in Oxford when I was in high school and, seduced by the "Olé Miss" pun, I wrote about slow cooked pork tacos with salsa and a cilantro sauce.

I loved that dish. It fit all the necessary criteria for a proper football party food. It's easy to make enough for a crowd. It can be prepared well ahead of game time. You can set it out and let it sit as your guests graze over it for hours. It has a spicy kick. You don't need anything but a paper plate to enjoy it, so no awkward cutting with a knife and fork while standing. It goes well with beer.

But we lost. For whatever reason, this concoction that I thought was not only satisfactory but superlative did not help the cause. I haven't had real tacos since.

Sure I've had Tex Mex meat-cheese-lettuce "tacos" at restaurants and made a few meals from an Ortega box in the intervening eleven and a half months, but I have not been able to bring myself to slow cook pork, beef, or chicken with spices or citrus or both and fold it in a tortilla with peppers and such. In my mind, it tastes of defeat.

I hope no one takes this as an attempt to usurp the hoodoo - that is squarely within the purview of olewhistlebritches. His is a sacrifice to sate the malevolent appetites of the football gods. Mine is an appeal to their better angels.

I have been penitent, eschewing my beloved tacos for almost a full calendar year. Surely they would not take even more from me.

If the Alabama Crimson Tide is victorious over the Ole Miss Black Bears, then I get my tacos back. If the Rebears win the day surprisingly late night, then I'm left not only without my tacos for yet another year, but I fear I would be bereft of this years choice for the match up's post, my beloved chicken cacciatore, as well. Surly a beaten cacciatore would elicit the same sour taste as my tacos.

Not even the football gods, they of the fumble in the 2010 Iron Bowl that bounced out of the end zone, could be that cruel.

I assume that most are familiar with cacciatore. It translates roughly to "hunter style" in Italian. Traditionally, freshly killed rabbits or game fowl would be field stripped and cooked in in a stew pot over an open flame with vegetables, wine, and whatever herbs were at hand. It was manly cooking. I bet there's a whole chapter on it in Iron John.

In the domesticated world, chicken more often than not takes the place of game and a stovetop bound Dutch oven takes the place of the stew pot over open flame.

My version, conceived with the tailgater in mind, returns cacciatore to its rugged roots as it's all cooked on the grill. "It's all cooked on the grill," if you would indulge me a bit of mansplaining, is a dog whistle for "manly".

My version is not exactly traditional. It's not a stew for starters, but that's okay.

When introducing her version of cacciatore Marcella Hazan, doyenne of Italian cooking in America, wrote "Making generous allowances for the uncounted permutations in the dishes that go by the cacciatore name, what they generally consist of is a chicken or rabbit fricassee with tomato, onion, and other vegetables. And this is exactly what this is."

Mine might not be a fricassee as it's grilled, but it's got all the other stuff so it's almost "exactly what this is."

Grilled Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken Leg/Thigh Pieces

1 Sliced Round of Red Onion, at least an inch thick, per Chicken Piece plus a few extra because you will lose at least one to the grill

2 Roma Tomatoes per Chicken Piece, halved

Black Olives, pitted

Olive Oil

White Wine

Chicken Stock

Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

Garlic Cloves, 1 per Chicken Piece, smashed

Salt

Cacciatore Ingredient Board

Rub the chicken with olive oil and salt. Once it is smoldering, set all the charcoal to one side of the grill. Place the chicken on the other side.

Drizzle a glug or two of olive oil in a small sauce pan with the garlic and set directly over the charcoals. When the oil bubbles around the garlic, pour in the wine and chicken stock. I didn't give measurements as I have no idea how many people you are feeding, but I fed three and used 1 cup wine with half the amount of chicken stock. Keep to that 2/1 ratio and you should be find. Add an equal measure of chopped parsley as chicken stock, in my case a half cup, and cover with the cover vent directly over the chicken to draw the heat and smoke its way.

Cacciatore Chicken on Grill

5 minutes later, remove the sauce pan and set aside. As far as the chicken goes, don't touch it again for 45 minutes. By that time, the olive oil should have crisped the outside up nicely. Remove from the grill and cut into the thickest part to be sure it's cooked through. Return to the grill as needed, checking for doneness intermittently.

Meanwhile, toss the tomato halves in olive oil and rub the onion rounds in the same. Lightly salt both. 30 minutes after the chicken hit the grill, add both vegetables over the by-now-dwindling coals and re-cover, vent always over the chicken.

Cacciatore all on Grill

When done, remove the chicken. Put the sauce pan back on to reheat and cover for 4-5 minutes.

Cacciatore Sauce and Veg

Take everything off the grill. Plate one piece of chicken, three to four tomato halves, one round of onion, a few olives and then spoon the wine sauce over everything.

Cacciatore Plate

The phrase "deconstructed" has become a trendy descriptor and not one I'm very fond of, but that's what this is: deconstructed chicken cacciatore.

It's nigh on spectacular if I do say so myself. It does suffer from the fork-and-knife-on-a-paper-plate problem, but is pretty well guaranteed to set your tailgate apart while setting firmly in the minds of your friends and family that you are part of a long tradition of manly hunter type people who make wonderful things over fire.

So football gods and other denizens of our bespoke Saturday blasphemy, see how I have already suffered through a year in the taco-less desert. Realize that, should we lose again to Ole Miss, my punishment will be doubled.

You rightly reign over this game and blithely shower favor and dispense sorrow. But if we were to fall tomorrow, you will have abdicated chaos in favor of direct torment. Denying my team victory, not once but twice in as many years? Denying me a favored dish not once but twice over the same time period?

To punish those that strive to appease you casts doubt on your capacity to be appeased. It casts doubt as to why we sacrifice - why we bother.

Smiting those who do their best to cull your favor? This is not the doings of a promiscuously anarchic actor. This is the act of a deliberate persecutor. This is not your job.

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Side note: I was invited, along with Rusty from the opening week's RBR Tailgating focusing on Bar-B-Q ribs, to be a guest on the Jackie Lo Show on Substrate Radio. We talked about Bar-B-Q vs. grilling, tailgating, those damn pictures we are using to call in plays from the sidelines, stupid substitution rules that were not the intention behind the new clock rule, and Jackie set a playlist with energizing college stadium crowd songs in mind. You can listen here. It gets a bit bourbony after the first hour, but not absurdly so.