Monday, February 06, 2006

Cacciatore, marengo, and polynesian

I was making a chicken dish the other, just pulling together what I had on hand: some mushrooms, a little celery, a can of tomatoes, some wine, onions. I browned the chicken pieces, then remove them from the fat, sauteed the vegetables, added the chicken back, plus the wine and tomatoes, covered and cooked slowly. I was halfway through the dish before I realized I was making chicken cacciatore.

Party dishes in the seventies usually meant chicken, browned in oil, then cooked in some sort of liquid (unless, of course, you want to stuff the chicken). The variations were endless, of course. Want to be all Polynesian? Use pineapple juice. Italian? Tomatoes, of course. French? White wine and mushrooms. Hungarian? Tomatoes, paprika, and finish with sour cream. You get the idea.

The pineapple juice was canned. So were the tomatoes, which was reasonable. So were the mushrooms, which was not. The cut-rate ingredients, along with complete disregard for authenticity in the naming, sent these dishes into disrepute in the eighties. It was with some abashedness that I told my boyfriend I had made chicken cacciatore for dinner, even though chicken cacciatore is apparently a perfectly legitimate Italian dish. (I don't think you can say the same for Chicken Polynesian). Cacciatore apparently means hunter's style. Maybe the hunters were finding mushrooms while they were out hunting. I don't know.

Anyway, I shouldn't have worried. My boyfriend was raised in an anthroposophist community in England: he has no sense of this sort of American suburban cooking or the snobberies around it.

Besides, there's nothing shameful about chicken cacciatore or marengo or mexicaine, except in certain cases the names. The method of cooking is simple fricasee, the ingredient list is flexible, and the results are usually pretty good. A little retro action never hurt anybody. Just skip the canned mushrooms.

(By the way, how the heck do I do accents? It's making me crazy.)

1 comment:

mzn said...

I have made many chicken cacciatores and they're always good. But I like those 1970s-style dishes in general.

In some browsers you can do accents as you would in Word, e.g., option+E, E for é or option+E, A for á. But I don't know if these translate from browser to browser.