Recipe: Chicken arrabbiata

As per usual, loads of vegetables.
As per usual, loads of vegetables.

A few weeks ago, I decided to finally treat myself with a trip to Arjuna, a whole foods store in Cambridge, to get a few of the more unusual ingredients that I’ve been wishing for. In particular, I was looking to expand my whole-grain horizons beyond brown rice and porridge oats (which are okay, but I miss the cups of chewy, delicious steel-cut oats from Collis that were a post-training breakfast staple for me in undergrad). Amazingly enough, given how frequently we’d eat it at home, I haven’t made a tomato-based pasta sauce yet in Cambridge. When I saw a recipe for arrabbiata sauce (which I was not familiar with…apparently it means “angry” in Italian, referring to the heat of the chili peppers) on the BBC Good Food site, I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Starting off with a saute.
Starting off with a saute.
Just added the wine! I was a little intimidated by how boozy it smelled at this point.
Just added the wine! I was a little intimidated by how boozy it smelled at this point.

I made some changes to their recipe, of course. I swapped the chicken thighs for chicken breasts because it’s what I have, and decided to shred the meat after poaching in the tomato sauce for easier storing in old yogurt containers (my go-to cheap Tupperware). For some extra color and nutrition, I added some zucchini and bell peppers. I tried browning my zucchini a little bit with the other vegetables first, then took them out for the long simmer so they wouldn’t over-cook, and added them back in at the end; you can skip this part if you don’t feel like it. Finally, I added some sun-dried tomatoes (jarred in oil, drained and rinsed) for a little extra punch of flavor, and I used some of the oil from the jar as my olive oil for the initial vegetable saute.

Adding in the broth, tomatoes, and herbs.
Adding in the broth, tomatoes, and herbs.

The results: Okay, first of all, don’t do what I did with the zucchini. It took forever and some burnt fingers to remove the zucchini pieces, and they didn’t brown anyway. I’ve updated the recipe to include a browning method that should actually work.

Chopped-up chicken goes back in the pot.
Chopped-up chicken goes back in the pot.

In terms of actual tastiness, this was really good! I added 2 tsp of crushed red chilies in addition to 5 fresh jalapenos, and I still didn’t think it was terribly spicy, but there was a bit of a slow burn when I took a bite. The amount of wine seemed overwhelming when I added it, but it works quite nicely with the tomatoes here. I’m so used to having fennel seeds in my tomato sauce (my Dad’s go-to addition) that I missed them here, and I’d probably add them next time I made this, but that’s probably a matter of personal preference more than anything else. My only other issue with the recipe was that it took a really long time (about 20-30 minutes at the end, not 15) to reduce to what I felt was a reasonable consistency, but that’s something that could easily be solve with a roux, some cornstarch, or an immersion blender…

Reducing to the final texture.
Reducing to the final texture.

Anyway, don’t overcook your pasta (like I did), try this sauce, and don’t forget the cheese and/or fresh herbs on top!


Chicken arrabbiata

Yield: 6+ servings

Adapted from: BBC Good Food.

1.5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves (slightly smashed)
2-3 zucchini, cut into small chunks
3-5 chilies, de-seeded and sliced
1.5 c red wine
1.5 c chicken stock (used 1/2 chicken stock cube)
2 cans chopped tomatoes (800 g total)
2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tsp mixed herbs or thyme
2 tsp crushed red chilies (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 chicken breasts (defrosted)

Pasta or grain and fresh chopped parsley to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and whole garlic cloves. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 mins, adding the zucchini chunks* after a few minutes and the chilies in the final few minutes of cooking. Remove the zucchini chunks and set aside. *You can skip this step if you feel it’s too much work.

Pour in the wine, turn up the heat and allow it to bubble for 5 minutes to cook off the alcohol. Stir in the stock, chopped tomatoes (pour off about 1/3 of the liquid if possible), tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, mixed herbs, crushed chilies, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts, pushing them under the liquid, then part-cover the pan and leave to simmer gently for 45 mins.

Remove the lid and take out the chicken breasts. Shred or cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and return to pot, along with the zucchini chunks. Cook for a further 15-30 mins until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency, adding a generous splash of pasta cooking water if it is too thick.

Serving suggestion: over pasta (such as penne, rigatoni, or macaroni) or a grain of your choice (brown rice, oat groats, wheat berries), scattered with fresh chopped parsley if you have it, with a grating of Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese (I’ve been trying Grana Padano because it was cheap at Sainsbury’s…).


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