by Fred McMillin
for June 15, 1998
Well Done Napoleon
Yesterday was the 109th anniversary of the Battle of Marengo in northern Italy. Napoleon had secretly brought his 40,000 troops across the Alps, surprised the Austrians, and gained control of the great wine district of Piedmont.
Napoleon had pursued the Austrians with such vigor his supply wagons were far behind. So, his chef, Dunand, prepared a victory dinner from what could be scavenged...a scrawny chicken, Cognac filched from Napoleon's canteen, and a few crayfish placed on top of the hen. Bonapart was so impressed, he said, "You must feed me like this after every battle." To this day, the dish is know as Chicken Marengo.
...Sources: Waverley Root; Larousse Gastronomique.
At the University of Dijon, my wife learned the dish made with veal rather than chicken...Veal Marengo. So, that's what we had yesterday. The wine had to have a Piedmont connection. We chose the most widely-planted varietal of the district, Barbera. The Barbera leader in the U.S.A. is Sierra foothill's Montevina winery with 80 acres of vines and 16 years of experience. The 1995 is a pleasing plum and cherry red...but smooth enough that Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon recommends it with chicken as well as stronger fare. Hence, you can enjoy the wine with either the fowl or veal version of the Napoleonic favorite, at only $12 for a bottle.
After the next battle, Chef Dunand decided to eliminate the "unholy"
combination of crayfish and chicken by replacing the former with mushrooms. Bonaparte
spotted the change and said, "You have left out the crayfish. It will bring
me bad luck. I don't want any of it." The crayfish garnish was restored.
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