Some readers may be disappointed that I didn’t include Craig Claiborne’s Chicken Marengo, which I’d heard from older friends was the dish to serve in the 1960’s. I made two of his versions and liked them, but then I tried this much older recipe and thought it blew Craig’s away. His were uniform, polite, their sauces thickened with flour; this one reminded me of the kinds of country home cooking you find in Italy. You get crisp pieces of chicken, a whiff of garlic, some mushrooms and a concentrated oil-slicked wash of tomato.
According to Larousse Gastronomique, the original dish was created by Napoleon's chef after the battle of Marengo (although The Oxford Companion to Food points out that tomatoes were not used in this way at the time). It is said to have been garnished with crawfish and fried eggs – hardly what we think of as battlefield fare.
Chicken a la Marengo
This recipe appeared in the Times in 1908
1. Pour the can of tomatoes into a small saucepan. Crush the tomatoes using a potato masher or fork. Add the carrot, celery, onion and parsley. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened and reduced to about 1 cup, about 40 minutes. Season with salt about halfway through.
2. Press through the fine disk of a food mill into a bowl, then stir in 1 tablespoon butter and check the seasoning. (Should make about 1 cup.)
3. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter with the oil in a 12-inch sauté pan or casserole over medium-high heat. Add the garlic. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Add the dark pieces to the pan. Once they begin to get crisp on the edges, reduce the heat to medium. After 5 minutes, add the breast pieces. Turn the chicken as it browns and remove the pieces to a platter as they finish cooking, 15 to 18 minutes total time. After 15 minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan, season them and cook until lightly browned and cooked through – they may need to cook for a few minutes after the chicken has been removed.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and spoon off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of fat, Add 1 cup tomato puree to the mushrooms and stir up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the sauce thickens and forms a glaze with the fat in the pan. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
5. Spoon the sauce over the chicken.
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