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A cooking revolution / 21 April 2014: Pollo alla cacciatora

While a lot of us (myself included – SOMETIMES) still fall for junk food and MSG-injected dishes, there are many others, too, who want to eat as healthfully as they can. I also fall under this category, but my cooking skills (which are limited – no, nonexistent) currently have not yet blessed me with the gift of innovation in preparing dishes – I’m still very by-the-book (or rather, by-the-recipe) in making my meals. Still, I try. 😉

But it’s not just in the ingredients you use or the way you cook said ingredients; it’s also in your cooking materials themselves. That said, I’m blessed to live in a household where we have at least some pans that are non-stick and supposedly better for the food you eat, as less chemicals are absorbed into your food.

Last month, however, my brother took it one step further with the Happycall Double Pan. It lets you cook food both ways – when the pan’s closed, it becomes essentially spill proof – and speeds up cooking, which means less smoke and smells, thereby making your cooking healthier. He got it at a discount, as our cousin’s acquaintance was importing them and selling them at a lower price. When she asked for the next batch of orders in the family, I placed one. This time, the SKU we were getting was the Happycall Jumbo Grill, a larger, deeper version of the pan my brother had, and suitable for cooking things like whole chickens, according to the site.

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I got it last night, but cooked something very simple for dinner as I was lazy (quesadilla) – which didn’t warrant washing and drying the Happycall immediately. So I waited until lunch today, when I decided to cook Nigella Lawson’s take on pollo alla cacciatora. It literally means chicken the hunter’s way; I read that “alla cacciatora” (the dish, in general, is called Cacciatore) is a way of preparing meat using tomatoes, onions, etc. I just happened to first hear about it through chicken.

The way Nigella made it was more like a stew, really (Solaire’s Finestra Italian restaurant prepared it very differently; it was a lot drier with much less sauce); the chicken is chopped up into manageable size, and a lot of tomato sauce is added. It’s perfect to eat alongside rice, and yes, perfect for cool weather. But since you almost never get that in Metro Manila, I decided that I would have hunter’s chicken based on craving. And, I figured, it’s a relatively healthy dish, as it’s full of vegetables.

Strangely, I didn’t use my Happycall; my brother told me to use his (smaller) pan first. It was a good thing I did so – the chicken I made was for only one person, and pouring the tomato sauce and wine that made the liquid part of the dish, I thought at first the chicken might not be entirely covered anymore. Furthermore, as I write this blog post now, I see that my Happycall is a “grill” – the pan has grill grooves. Maybe I should’ve made my quesadilla here after all…

Anyway, thanks to financial and geographical constraints, I improvised in ingredients, as I always do. I begin with a dash of sunflower oil and chopped-up garlic, or Nigella-style garlic-infused oil (which is faster, in terms of prep time), as well as one strip of bacon tore up (she uses pancetta, or Italian bacon – after all, this is an Italian recipe), a spring onion chopped, and rosemary (the only reasonably-priced one I find is McCormick’s, dried).

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It already looks appetizing enough. And the smell of bacon always gets me hungry.

Next, I add four ounces of chopped-up chicken (although Nigella prefers thigh, I use whatever is on hand because I do not control the kitchen and groceries anyway), then mix the whole thing together for a short while. Looking back, I realize my life could’ve been easier if, at this point, I just closed the pan and flipped and shook lightly instead of stirring with my wooden spatula. Or am I just over-excited to use a double pan? 😛

Anyway, at this point, Nigella adds celery salt. Since I cannot get that one without burning my wallet to ashes, I use a little iodized salt instead. I used to add chopped-up, actual celery to serve as vegetable garnish too, but we’re usually out of that. Today, I added cajun powder as an experiment; I love the earthy, romantic and just-right spicy flavor of this ingredient.

Since our white wine was almost completely drained, I had to add some red wine into the pan as well to ensure an abundance of liquid. Then, I added two chopped-up tomatoes (my favorite fruit, apart from blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries) and Del Monte tomato sauce into the mix. Yes, I know, sodium, but I evened it out with a little bit of water. The cheap alternative  (blanching tomatoes) takes up so much time, and canned tomatoes are expeeeeensive. Below’s a picture of the chicken and tomatoes.

DSC_0193I also added some frozen mixed vegetables as a way of making myself feel better. I love mixed veggies; I’ve always been eating them as a child, especially when added to fried rice. It’s now a regular household grocery.

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Because I didn’t use canned tomatoes (which Nigella says are more acidic), there wasn’t any need for sugar any longer. But I added one last ingredient that is thankfully abundant at home: bay leaf.

It’s now a matter of covering the pan and leaving it to simmer for twenty minutes under low heat. To show off to myself the wonders of Happycall, I closed the pan, flipped it to ensure all the flavors mixed, and left it there. I would’ve retrieved it after 10-15 minutes instead, but the computer (as usual) occupied me. Nevertheless, the dish tasted fine as usual, though I feel that something could’ve made it taste more authentic.

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As it turned out, my constant servings for one is enough for two sittings for me, but then again it could’ve been due to the over-abundant sauce, which drowned the chicken and made my dish look like minestrone with chicken. This I find to always be the case, out of my desire to ensure there’s more liquid than solid. I guess it’s time for a change…

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