Chicken Marengo

THE YEAR IS 1800. The French Revolution has proceeded through enthusiasm, terror, slaughter, reaction, and finally to dictatorship. The house of Habsburg, rulers of Austria, Hungary, bits of Italy, the rump of the Holy Roman Empire and an ‘it’s complicated’ list of other chunks of Europe, lead the rest of Europe’s crowned heads in a coalition campaign against the French in a war over territories, colonial trade, indemnity payments, honour, and shits and giggles. Napoleon’s armies, marching on their stomachs, rout the Prussians, the Russians, the Spanish and the Central European cousin-fanciers, occupy more and more of the land bordering France, and set out on an early version of the European Union project with a will.

The legacies of the Napoleonic Wars? Civil code law in Europe, a new enthusiasm for conquest to spread human rights and liberty (an idea—but with a sword), reactionary Francophobia and crushing of radicalism and reform in Britain, the beginning of the end for aristocratic legitimacy and absolutist states, the idea of unified European nations as sovereign entities of the people, cool uniforms and fashion, deforestation, canal building, and a genuinely great chicken recipe, inspired by Napoleon’s victory over the Austrians in Italy at Marengo.

The myth is of a personal chef to the General, rushing about the north Italian battlefield, foraging for ingredients for a victorious feast. The reality is probably a self-promoting restauranteur or cook. Either way, dishes named for battles are rare, there are lots of different recipes circulating with different ingredients, and IMO they should be treated exactly in the spirit of preparing for any kind of conflict or struggle: improvise, adapt, overcome. This one is adapted from Gabriel Gaté’s SBS recipe.

  • 2x chicken maryland
  • a bunch of shallots
  • a small orange
  • a lot of olives
  • peas
  • 2x tomatoes
  • mushrooms
  • parsley
  • half a bottle of rosé that was at the bottom of the fridge

I seared the chicken pieces then put them in the oven (160ºC). Chop and fry all the shallots up in oil, add roughly cut chunks of orange and tomato, then add half a bottle of wine. Simmer it for oh about half an hour. Put the chicken back in, add peas and mushrooms, lots of olives, cook for another ten minutes. Parsley to garnish. Serve with couscous or rice.

Whistle the Marseillaise, march towards the sound of the guns.

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