Saturday, February 11, 2012

Utica Chicken Riggies (Original, Chef Joe Morelli recipe)

The famous, signature dish of Utica, NY


Italy’s sauces are many; sometimes it is a meat sauce, other times, olive oil & garlic (aglio e olio), pestos, cream or tomato sauces, augmented, depending on the time of year and what is plentiful during the season.  The sauce in this dish is a very typical Piedmontese-style, spicy tomato sauce that's  made with a Sherry Wine, is laden with roasted red peppers and studded with spicy, hot cherry peppers. 

The name “Chicken Riggies” is a Utica, NY, colloquialism and a household name known to everyone in Central New York. And, for those that do not know, Utica, NY is so famous for its Chicken Riggies (rigatoni) that we actually have a, much publicized, annual "Riggies Fest" where people (and, restaurants) compete with their own version of the dish, and a winner is crowned every year. For a restaurant, holding that revered title, inevitably translates to a big boom in business.

Over the years, there have come to be several variations on the recipe, and truth be known, I have seen people get into full-blown debates over which restaurant (or, person) makes the best “Riggies!” Personally, I am partial to my mother's, who learned from the best,  Utica's own, Chef Joe Morelli.

Recently, Utica’s "Chicken Riggies" recipe made its way to the magazine pages of “The Cook’s Illustrated- Lightened-Up Edition.”  Also, a few years back, while working at Williams Sonoma's flagship store in NYC, I, personally, gave this recipe to a couple celebrity chefs in NYC, including Tyler Florence, and Rachel Ray, who featured the recipe on one of her shows, along with the  famous dish,  Chef Morelli's Utica Greens.


INGREDIENTS:

1 pound of Rigatoni
2  lbs. of chicken breast (cut up into  small chunks)
2  large fire roasted red peppers  ( from the jar and sliced into 1 inch pieces)
Bunch of hot cherry peppers, roughly chopped ( 7, or so – depending how much heat you want)
1- 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano  tomatoes
Hot cherry peppers from my garden, 2011
5 cloves of garlic  (save one of the cloves to sauté chicken and peppers)
1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for topping)
1  cup of cooking Sherry wine (cut with  about ½ cup of water)
2+2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (separated- half for sauté, half for sauce)
4 tablespoons of butter  (half a stick)
¼ cup of heavy cream
½ teaspoon of dried basil  ( plus, a few torn  leaves of fresh basil for tossing in with pasta at the end)
½ teaspoon of sea salt

PREPARATION:
In a large pot heat extra-virgin olive on low heat with 4 smashed and chopped  garlic cloves. This infuses the garlic into the oil before you add the tomatoes. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t get brown. It will be bitter.  Add the whole tomatoes and Sherry Wine. Simmer for a few minutes.  Add the butter, dried basil and the sea salt.  Allow to simmer on very low heat.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute the chicken  in extra-virgin olive oil. When chicken is almost browned, stir in the roasted red peppers,  the hot cherry peppers,  one minced garlic clove, and sauté for a couple of minute so the flavors marry.  Carefully, mash the whole tomatoes with a potato masher, then add in the Pecorino Romano cheese. (Do not add the cheese earlier, as it will stick to the bottom of the pot a little, and cling to the masher.) Toss the chicken and peppers in with the marinara sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.  Prepare rigatoni al dente and toss the full pound of rigatoni in the pot with the sauce mixture.  One pound of rigatoni is perfect for the amount of sauce that is prepared.  Serve with additional grated cheese and red pepper flakes.  Buon Appetito!

NOTA  BENE:
The original Riggies recipe calls for one stick of butter, but I cut it down and supplemented with a little heavy cream, but you can experiment, if you wish.  Also, some variation that I like instead of chicken are:  ¼ pound of crisped prosciutto and chopped calamata olives.  Or, prosciutto and peas is really good, too! Just don’t omit the roasted red peppers, that is what gives it a distinctive taste.    Also, when I double this recipe, I like to use one can of crushed tomatoes and one can of whole tomatoes, then crush the whole tomatoes with a potato masher while it’s cooking.  I love the chunks of tomato in the finished dish.     xxoo

21 comments:

  1. This looks so good with that mouthwatering click.

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    1. Thanks a lot!! Thanks for stopping by!

      -Cathi

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  2. This looks like a fabulous dish and I can't wait to try it this fall.

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    1. Hello, there! Glad you will be trying this. This dish is very common where I grew up. A true comfort dish! Hope you love!

      Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon!

      -Cath

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  3. Tried it last week - awesome! Gave some to my friends and they agree - awesome! This recipe is a keeper. Yum. :-)

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    1. Hi, Karl!

      I'm so glad you made and that you loved it!! It's like a big hug from me to you!

      Come back soon! Lots cooking up!

      Cheers!
      -CAth

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  4. Cathi:
    Thanks for the recipe, I have been looking for it for a while, and I am glad I got the my hands on the authentic Morelli, AKA Chesterfields, recipe. I am glad you are doing so well for yourself. I made greens and riggies and nailed it...Utica food rocks!! Thanks Again....Mike

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    1. Hello there, Mike!

      Sorry for the delay. I didn't see your post until just now.. So glad you could find Joe Morelli's Chicke Riggies recipe right here on my blog. Yep, my mom used to work with him many moons ago at Grimaldi's Restaurant in Utica, and then at Chesterfields. So many great Utica recipes I plan to share!! So glad I have an audience for the old school Utica Italian food!

      Come back soon!
      -Cath

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    2. I have a version but not the Chesterfields. Haven't eaten at the Chesterfield since I was last in Utica and that is way too long ago. And most of all miss the Florentine Bakery (and old friends)

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  5. looks fabulous! Sounds great! Thank you for sharing again. Glad I remembered to post on More or less cooking blog. That is where I found you. Saluti, Barbara, Sunday at the giacomettis.

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    1. Hey There, Barbara! Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know where you say my dish! So I see we both adore Nettie! :-) Stop by again sometime, always cooking something new!

      Saluti!
      Caterina!

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  6. let me ask you something though........will the dish turn out well with way less hot cherry peppers? They seem to be the heart of the dish. Having only heard about this dish but never tasted it, I wonder whether the focus is for this to be so hot, with that setting it apart from an otherwise ordinary chicken and pasta dish. Appreciate your thoughts.

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    1. Hi, There! It's the pickled flavor from those specific peppers that is giving it it's distinctive taste. For example, no one would ever use jalapenos in this dish because they have a different flavor, and are not used in Italian cooking (hardly ever.) Having said that, you may either use the cherry peppers that are sweet, or you may simply remove the seeds from the hot ones when you are chopping them (it's pretty easy to do).

      Also, the Sherry wine gives the sauce a distinctive flavor. Because Sherry is a fortified wine (with Brandy), it has a sweetness to it that red, and white wine does not.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for stopping by and checking out this recipe!

      Cheers!
      -Cathi

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  7. This is crazy wonderful, Cathi! Thank you so much for sharing! I'm originally from Saratoga Springs, and was in Utica many times, but never had the pleasure of trying this dish. I absolutely adore your recipes!

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    1. Hi, Carol.

      Thanks, for stopping by and checking out this Utica classic! I Love Saratoga Springs and have fond memories of the race track. Beautiful part of NYS!

      Hope you try this recipe; it's a hometown fave!

      -CAth

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  8. hi! This looks awesome, and I am making right now, but wondering to which part and when I add the heavy cream?

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  9. I read the recipe several times and also the nota bene, so, is the cream added when the butter is added? It isn't clear in the preparation directions.

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  10. Cathi,
    I grew up in Herkimer NY and LOVE all of the Utica fare!! I made these last night for my family. I did the recipe to a tea, no screwing with it. This recipe, as Guy Fieti would say, is money!! It turned out fantastic. They only downfall was the cherry peppers I bought. They were pickled but not very hot. I will change that next time!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing these great recipes with us. I will be a new follower!!

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  11. I hate it when someone posts a recipe I really like but fails to tell the number of servings :(

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  12. Loved this. Although I have been to Chesterfields and Utica many times did not hear about Chicken Riggies until today on NPR--the contest for a new Frito Lay flavor. I made it tonight for my family (3 of us) had leftovers for 2 more. Could serve six, more if it is the pasta course, we all had to taste just a little bit more. Looking forward to many more recipes. Grew up Italian in Mechanicville, NY

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  13. Looks nice, new and professional....I love creation a new types of meals. This looks so easy and new for my
    How To Become A Chef

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