Just a few months after the successful performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s first big musical work, his Symphony #1 in C (opus 21), his hero Napoleon Bonaparte was also making a name for himself by audaciously crossing the
Alps (on a mule) and leading his army to defeat the Austrian army at the battle of Marengo, in northern . Driving the Austrians from Italy , Napoleon insured his success as First Consul (French government leader) and that particular victory ended the French revolutionary period (beginning the Napoleonic era) and allowed him to boldly reform Italy and France Europe as he wished.
They say an army travels on its stomach, and Marengo had decimated Napoleon’s food supplies. Legend has it that he sent his chef and cooks foraging out into the countryside. Accordingly, they brought back chickens, eggs, tomatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms and crayfish from a river, and thus a classic dish, Chicken a la Marengo, was fashioned. So memorable was that battle victory, that when later- exiled French Bonaparte supporters initially settled a county in the state of
, Alabama , they named it Marengo. Perhaps few people are familiar with the battle of Marengo but plenty know and love the Chicken a la Marengo dish. And for good reason – it is sensational; vibrant and jam-packed with bucolic flavour. USA
When Beethoven had composed his Third Symphony in E flat, (Opus 55) a couple years later, he originally dedicated it to Napoleon because he cherished Napoleon's new constitution, founded on representative government with sacred rights of property, equality, and liberty. But when Bonaparte arrogantly crowned himself emperor, Beethoven saw him for the imperial tyrant he had really become. A few years later Bonaparte was exiled and the rest is history.
Beethoven went on to compose eight more symphonies, several string quartets and piano concertos, even an opera since that historical Marengo battle. By the time his 3rd Symphony was performed in 1805, Beethoven was regarded as a master composer. That “Eroica” (heroic) symphony revealed a breadth and profundity of orchestration that significantly lifted music from the sweet, melodically appealing music of earlier periods to a new dynamic structural standard where bold passion played a big part. I don’t know if Ludwig ever dined on Chicken a la Marengo, (his hero worship of Napoleon had certainly expired) but the immortal composer would have surely loved this tasty classic dish, richly imbued with its own culinary breadth and profundity.
Classic recipes for Chicken a la Marengo abound; here is one from Julia Child that is extraordinary. Many modern recipes omit the shellfish and the croutons and the eggs and many use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Because of the history, I like Miss Childs’ faithful to the original version, which I can assure you will taste wonderful. But if you refrain from the garnishes, it is okay, you will still have a wonderful dish. I hope you will try Chicken a la Marengo; perhaps listening to the Eroica symphony while preparing it. Think of it all: the sight, the sound, the taste, the aroma.
Chicken a la Marengo serves 6
1 chicken, cut into parts for frying or personally chosen parts 4-5 lbs
4 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup dry white wine divided into 3rds (3- ¼ cup sections)
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
2 medium onions, diced
2 lbs diced fresh tomatoes or a 28 ounce can highest quality tomatoes, chopped up
2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed or pressed
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ lb white mushrooms, caps and stems
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup of the white wine from above
2 tablespoons olive oil
6- ¼ inch slices of baguette (small ovals)
6 large cleaned shrimp or prawns or crayfish tails
1 tablespoon olive oil (perhaps a little more)
6 small eggs
1 generous teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
½ cup pitted black olives, sliced
- Rinse the chicken and pat dry thoroughly
- Heat a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and when hot brown the chicken well on all sides. May do this in portions to avoid overcrowding the skillet
- Add ¼ cup white wine, cover and simmer all10 minutes
- Add BRANDY, then ONIONS, recover and re-simmer 10 minutes
- Remove chicken to a platter
- Remove stems from MUSHROOM CAPS and dice them, reserving caps
- Fry the GARLIC and MUSHROOM DICE together
- Add the chopped TOMATOES, ¼ cup WHITE WINE and HERBAGE
- Stir well and loosen up any chicken bits in the skillet
- Add salt and pepper, tasting for proper amount
- Bring heat up and add chicken to the tomato mixture
- Reduce the flame, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes
- As the chicken cooks, heat a saucepan over high flame with olive oil and white wine and briefly add the mushroom caps tossing lightly
- Now set them aside keeping them warm ( a slow, 200F oven is good)
- Heat a frying pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil and lightly brown bread slices
- Keep warm
- Add the shrimp to hot oil and fry only about 1 or 2 minutes, just until they curl up Place on a rack or paper towels and then keep warm
- Poach the eggs in water or fry them in olive oil. When cooked drain on rack or paper towel
I usually serve this individually or you can put the chicken on a platter and then spoon the tomato sauce over it. Garnish with the black olives and parsley
Place the croutons around the chicken platter. Place an egg on every crouton and a shrimp between them. If you want to serve wine with this, a cabernet sauvignon is a good companion.
Despite its rustic beginning, Chicken a la Marengo is a noble dish to prepare for a special occasion if not a weeknight thing. A couple working together can enjoy preparing this historical entity easily and the heroic symphony will add to the happy thrill. There is a lot to love here, especially the Chicken a la Marengo.