Chicken Marengo is one of our favorite easy “go-to” dishes. If you use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, it can easily be made in under an hour and the wonderful history alone is enough reason to serve it at a dinner party. A great conversation starter at the table is to tell your guests about its colorful history.
Napoleon’s chef was a man named Durand. According to legend, when Napoleon defeated the Austrians on the battlefield near the village of Marengo in northwest Italy in June of 1800, Durand created the dish Chicken Marengo. The supply trains hadn’t been able to keep up with the troops, so there wasn’t anything with which to make dinner for the temperamental Napoleon. Durand decided to send some of his men into the countryside to find provisions for a celebration dinner. On a nearby farm they found chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and garlic.
There are dozens of stories about the creation of the actual dish. Some say it was garnished with crayfish and fried eggs; others insist it included olives, anchovies, and Italian Prosciutto, which would make it Chicken Provencale.
It’s simple to use Chicken Marengo as a base recipe for Chicken Provencal. Just exclude the mushrooms and add the prosciutto, olives and anchovies. If you’re not an anchovy fan, simply leave them out. I usually don’t mention the anchovies and follow Mario Batali’s rule of “you’re not obliged to tell.”
Just for fun, I combined the two dishes today and included mushrooms, prosciutto, olives and anchovies. I like to serve this with parsley rice that I’ve molded into a small dish. Spray a mold with a bit of cooking spray and pack the rice in well. To serve, invert over a plate and carefully remove the mold.
Adapted from A Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood & 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey
4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped, about 1 cup
1 ½ cups sliced fresh button mushrooms
2 teaspoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Generous pinch of dried thyme and oregano
½ cup Italian Prosciutto, diced
1 14-ounce canned whole tomatoes, cut into pieces, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
4 – 6 chopped good quality anchovies, chopped (optional, but recommended)
1 cup olives, preferably small French ones
Dry the chicken well and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dust the chicken pieces lightly in flour. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the chicken until it is golden brown, turning frequently so that all pieces are done evenly. If they don’t all fit, cook them in two batches. Do not crowd in the skillet or they will steam. When the chicken is browned nicely on both sides, remove and cover to keep warm.
In the same skillet put chopped onions, sliced fresh mushrooms, minced parsley, and, if necessary, a little more olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, seasoning the mushrooms with salt and freshly ground black pepper as they cook. Add garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the thyme, oregano, and prosciutto cook for another minute, and then add the tomatoes, dry white wine, brandy, tomato paste and flour. Mix and blend the ingredients well, and allow it simmer over a medium flame for about 10 minutes. Now put the chicken back in the sauce, cover the pan, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is completely tender. Add the anchovies to the sauce about 10 minutes before it is ready and the olives five minutes before you serve. Serve in the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the reserved tomato juice. Serves 4.