Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Napoleon Bonaparte's Chicken Marengo

This is the original Chicken Marengo recipe and presentation as it was served to Napoleon!  Napoleon Bonaparte liked a quick meal after a major battle.  His cooks used influences of local cuisine from places they were stationed at.  This is not the Spezzatino Marengo Italian dish.  It is French!
     As the fabled story goes, Napoleon's cooks had very little ingredients to cook with after the battle of Marengo in the Piedmont region of Italy.  After any battle, the easiest meats to acquire are chickens and eggs from farms.  Crawfish are abundant in any stream or pond.  Tomato paste and dried herbs were a French army mess tent staple.  Local Italian olives, olive oil, peppers, mushrooms, leeks, tomatoes and onions were available too.  Of course, Napoleon's French Cognac was on hand as well.  The soldiers had hard tack bread and the officers had French breads baked by their cooks.  Put all these ingredients together, with the skill of Napoleon's French cook, and you have the creation of one of the finest recipes in history!  This recipe was originally cooked quickly using one pan and served with toasted crusty bread with a fried egg garnish.  (Napoleon loved fried eggs!)  A fried egg on toast was the classic garnish of that period in history.  It was not served with rice, pasta or potato.
     Spezzatino Merengo is the local stew of this Italian region.  Spezzatino is made with veal or pork, not chicken.  Some say the a poached egg is required on a Spezzatino Marengo just like Napolean's Marengo was prepared.  The original Italian recipes required no egg.  The egg is just an optional remnant of Napoleon's occupying army.  I also posted a nice Italian Spezzatino Marengo recipe in this blog without the egg. 
     Recipe:  Use only one skillet for this recipe, just like the original recipe was cooked! 
     Heat a skillet over medium high heat.
     Add a little splash of olive oil and toast a slice of French bread on both sides.  Set the toast aside.
     Add a little more olive oil to the pan and saute a little bit of chopped garlic.
     Add some julienne sliced onions.
     Add some sliced leek.
     Add some diced red bell pepper and diced green bell pepper.
     Add a few mushroom quarters.
     Saute till the vegetables become al dente. 
     Add some large bite size sqare cut pieces of chicken breast.
     Add a couple pinches each of:  dried tarragon, thyme leaf, sage, marjoram, basil and oregano.
     Add a bay leaf. 
     Add sea salt and black pepper. 
     Saute and toss these ingredients in the pan till the chicken is half cooked.  
     Add a few pitted large green olives and large ripe black olives.
     Add some large cut pieces of tomato.
     Add a generous splash of French Cognac.
     Reduce the pan juices a little bit.
     Stir in a couple spoonfuls of some quality imported Italian tomato paste.
     Add a splash of water.
     Simmer the Marengo quickly till the chicken is fully cooked.  (Do not simmer the Marengo for too much time or the vegetables will be "flat" and mushy.)
     Remove the bay leaf.
     Set the toast on one end of a serving platter.
     Spoon the Chicken Marengo on the platter, while leaving some of the sauce in the pan.
     Return the pan with the little bit of sauce in it to the heat and add just a little splash of water.
     Add some whole crawfish. 
     Quickly poach the crawfish in the diluted sauce.
     Arrange the crawfish around the toast and Chicken Marengo on the serving platter.
     Rinse the excess sauce off of the skillet and wipe it dry.
     Return the skillet to the heat and quickly fry an egg in olive oil sunny side up.
     Place the fried egg on the toast with a spatula.
     There it is!  Cooked with one skillet like the original Chicken Marengo!  You have to poach the crawfish separately instead of in the Chicken marengo itself because the legs and claws tend to fall off of the crawfish.  If you were cooking for Napoleon, would you want him to bite into a crawfish claw and break a tooth?  No!  That would be the way to have a very short cooking career indeed!
     The flavors of the cognac, tomato and herbs with olives is so very appetizing.  The aroma is fantastic!  Snacking on the crawfish while eating the Marengo is a great simple pleasure.  The old fashioned garnish of toast and fried egg does accompany this recipe well.  This was how the original Chicken Marengo was cooked and presented.  Bon Appetit !!! ... Shawna

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