Friday, October 5, 2012


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 Italy. 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 France and 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, USA, 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.

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.



Swathi said...

Anthony, I Like the history behind the this classic dish. Julia's recipes always perfect. Love its exotic name.

Swathi said...

By the way you can use your trusted Cuisinart for making flat bread.

Lynn Proctor said...

i love beethoven---this is so interesting!!

Divya A said...

Sounds so yum and nice write up :)
Chicken Ghee Roast
Inviting You To Join In The South Vs North Challenge - Learn Regional Indian Recipes

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

Hi Anthony,

That was a lovely explanation behind the dish. It's good to see you back!

Eat To Live said...

What a GREAT post Anthony. I enjoy learning how a recipe came to be and how it was named.

I hope to try this recipe soon.... We are always on the go.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Anthony! Interesting history behind this dish.

Nice to see you blogging, again. You were missed.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that one sounds really good! Lots of planning though, as that is quite the assortment of ingredients.

Susan Oloier said...

I love the history of this dish. You've written about it so poetically, too.
That photo alone makes my mouth water.
Also, thanks for your kind words and thoughts for Zane.

Liz That Skinny Chick Can Bake said...

What a beautifully written post! I love the look and sound of this dish..and its history. And I'm sure Julia's recipe was perfect!!!

Theresa Milstein said...

I've never had this dish, but now I want to try it. I love the stories behind the dish. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Best post of the weekend! I love European history, Napolean, and Beethoven. And that bucolic dish looks amazing. Thanks for enriching my day.

cookingvarieties said...

hi anthony, how have you been.. wow! great write up, love this kind of foodie blogging- not just plain recipes all the time.
Very well researched and the Marengo looks authentic as well nostalgic. have a nice day.

CQUEK said...

Yum! Looks absolutely scrumptious. And, as always your photos make the food look so tempting.

Prathima Rao said...

wow...a nice & interesting dish..Loved the write up..!! How are u doing? Been a long time since i dropped by here :)
Prathima Rao
Prats Corner

Kalyan Panja said...

looks mouthwatering...just delicious!

anthony stemke said...

SWATHI IYER: Thank you, I think that the history behind this dish makes the meal more enjoyable and I'm happy that you like it too. And Beethoven's music is wonderful too.
Thanks for the cuisinart ok, I've made your flatbread 3 times already, so thank you again.

LYNN PROCTOR: Thanks Lynn, I love Beethoven's music and this chicken is great. We ate it on our front porch listening to his violin concerto and I could almost imagine Napoleons cooks gathering the foodstuffs and preparing it.

DIVYA PRAMIL: I appreciate your kind words. Your chicken ghee roast looks scrumptious by the way.

DUNCAN D HORNE: Yes, the history is fascinating, the music is beautiful and the chicken a la marengo is superb. Your photographs in Malaysia are truly magnificent.

anthony stemke said...

MY JOURNEY WITH CANDIDA: Thank You so much for your kind words, I think you could enjoy chicken a la marengo - the olive oil is good, maybe omit the shellfish.
At any rate, I wish you the best.

SUSANNE DRAZIC: Thank You, I appreciate your sweet comment, hope all is well by you.

ALEX J CAVANAUGH: Chicken a la marengo is wonderful and not that difficult to put together. Ask your cook to read the recipe twice, then lay out the ingredients. After that the rest is fairly simple. Regardless, it's nice to hear from you.

SUSAN OLOIER: Thanks for those kind supportive words Susan. I am really pulling for Zane. I know God will protect him and I know you are strong. Blessings.

LIZZY DO: Such a lovely comment, Thanks Liz.

THERESA MILSTEIN: This chicken is really special thanks to the basic ingredients. Its simplicity belies its great flavour.

STEPHEN TREMP: Thank You for your lovely comment, I am grateful. I hope you will listen to Beethoven, his late string quartets are incredible, and enjoy chicken a la marengo soon.

COOKINGVARIETIES: I've been well although with very limited internet access. I am very pleased that you enjoyed this post. Thank You and best wishes.

CQUEK: Thank You,this is a wonderful chicken dish, glad you like the photograph.

PRATHIMA RAO: I am doing okay, have very limited internet access. I am very happy to hear from you.

HEAVENS GARDEN: Yes indeed, this is a wonderful chicken dish. Thanks for calling.

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

Again, I really like how you give the history and meaning of each recipe. Very cool.
I was reading the recipe in my Julia Child voice:
"FIIIIRST you slit the Chicken's throat ..."

Golden Eagle said...

I didn't know Napoleon Bonaparte influenced Beethoven; now there's an interesting fact!

Thanks for the recipe.

Missed Periods said...

I love that story. It's like the French version of creating something out of the last ingredients in your pantry. The French make an amazing dish; I make a mustard, pickle sandwich on Triscuits.

Torviewtoronto said...

looks wonderful

LoLy said...

WOW, I am drooling all thetime :p it looks really GOOOOOOOOOOOOD :D

anthony stemke said...

DAWN@LIGHTEN UP: As usual, you crack me up. It's hard to imitate miss Julia, you need a very high voice. But Dawn, seriously - you could prepare this for your cubicle microwave and avoid the gaily packaged marie calandar or whatever.
When I worked in an office like on Wall St., there was an ashtray on every desk, no cubicle walls, a manual crank operated adding machine, and if you needed division you used "factor sheets" And of course no microwave. But a Schraffts cart would come daily with bialys, bagels (real bagels not round bread with a hole)and Danish pastries. Progress? I say no.
Thank you for your comment and that certain definition.

anthony stemke said...

THE GOLDEN EAGLE: Oh yes. Beethoven's work can be divided into 3 periods - early, middle, and late. When Ludwig was enamoured with Napopleon he was ending his early period. That 3rd symphony, inspired by Napoleons bravery in battle was written to originally honour him. This was the start of his "middle" period and actually was the bridge between the Classical era of Hayden, Mozart and Gluck into the Romantic era of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann et al.
The two share a place in history and are giant historical figures of the early nineteenth century.
Thank you for calling.

MISSED PERIODS: You are absolutely correct about the pantry reference. Funny you should mention Triscuits, I just purchased a box of Wal-mart knockoff Triscuits (less than 2.00). I ate the whole box with a thin slice of hot pepper cheese and a slice of pepperoni sausage on each cracker. Well, not the whole box, I gave my BW four of the crackers. So in my opinion, you have good taste, not only gramatically (hope I spelt it right, don't want to fail in your eyes)but culinarily.
Thanks for calling.

TORVIEWTORONTO: Thanks Akheela, I appreciate that.

LOLY: Thank you dear, it really really is, I hope you get to try it sometime.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Welcome back! It's good to see you on the blogosphere again. This recipe sounds wonderful, (Chicken, mushrooms, wine, and shellfish... what's not to love?) but I find the historical background even more delicious. Oh, and I'm not cooking at the moment, but I AM listening to Beethoven.

(If you haven't tried them yet, try the rye Triscuits with caraway. YUM!)

Monet said...

Rich with history and well-placed sensory detail. Well written work! Thank you for sharing another delicious recipe and delightful post, my friend. I hope you have a wonderful week full of ample plates of good food!

Monet said...

Rich with history and well-placed sensory detail. Well written work! Thank you for sharing another delicious recipe and delightful post, my friend. I hope you have a wonderful week full of ample plates of good food!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I've not heard of Chicken a la Marengo, but I love the story you shared. And the recipe sounds so delicious!!

Joanne said...

I've never heard of this dish before but it sounds tasty! Love the history behind it.

anthony stemke said...

SUSAN FLETT SWIDERSKI: Thank you for your sweet words. This recipe is quite lovely, even if you prfer to skip the egg, croutons and shellfish garnish. The wine and the olive oil and the cognac make it fabulous.
I love food AND music. Back in the '50's and 60's I always won at name that tune. When I was in the army, there was a name that tune contest on base and for every song you named first you won a cigar (a cheap one, but what the heck I was young anyway). In ten minutes I asked for the empty box to put my cigars in and me and my friends left.
Beethoven never goes out of style, whether its those melody rich sonatas or the powerful symphonies or the piano trios. I love his string works. Am glad you enjoyed his music too.
I want to try thr rye triscuits, it is new to me. I am grateful to you for mentioning this.
Thank You Susan.

MONET: Thank you very much for your comment, I like the way you worded it as well as the sweet things you said. My best to you and yours.
I am curious Mo, do you like Manet's art? cm

LYNDA R YOUNG: Miss Lyn, this chicken dish is non-pareil, really. I hope you make, I know your family will relish it. My spouse raved about it while it was still on the stove, couldn't wait for me to photograph it so she could dig in.

JOANNE: Please try chicken a la marengo, you will love it. And thanks for calling

Eat To Live said...

Just stopping by to say Hello!!! Hope all is well with you.

anthony stemke said...

MY JOURNEY WITH CANDIDA: Thanks Terry, always glad to hear from you. Best wishes.

Catherine said...

Dear Anthony, Beautiful and interesting post. Sounds like a delicious dish. I am your newest follower. Please do visit soon! Blessings. Catherine

Pam said...

What a well-written interesting post! I have heard of Chicken a la Marengo, and will have to try it now after reading this. Your blog is great; I'm glad I found it and will be looking around now!

anthony stemke said...

CATHERINE: Thank You for calling and welcome. Chicken a la marengo is delicious.

PAM: Thank You for your complementary comment, I appreciate it. Please try it, you will love it.

Misha Gerrick said...

Ooh it looks delicious. I'd love to make this one day. It even looks pretty suitable for my diet. :-D

Danielle L Zecher said...

That looks delicious! I love the history too. And you can never go wrong if you go with Julia Child's recipe.

anthony stemke said...

MISHA GERICKE: If your diet allows chicken and mushrooms you can enjoy this fabulous dish.
Best wishes.

DANIELLE L ZECHER: I agree with all you say, thanks for calling.

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