Chicken Marengo (WW International Cookbook, 1977)

Back to the International cookbook for this one! 

The "Marengo" of Chicken Marengo was a battle from 1800, a decisive victory for Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army. The skirmish took place in Northern Italy and succeeded at defeating the Austrian troops who had been holding positions there due to the ongoing French Revolutionary wars of the 1790s to early 1800s. The recipe's legendary origin is on the Marengo battlefield, where Napoleon's chef needed to assemble a meal with whatever was available, and because of the victory, it became something of a superstition for Napoleon and he insisted on having it after every future battle. The reality is more likely that a restaurant made a dish in his honor later, and that recipe was passed down and re-created many times since.

Considering I'm a French teacher, it might be a little surprising that it has taken me this long to try something from the French recipe section! Even more interesting still, is that this isn't much of what most folks would think of as a traditional French recipe. No cheese, no bread, no snails, no frog legs... 

Clearly I jest. There's so, so much more to French cuisine than soupe à l'oignon and quiche lorraine

I taught a course a few years ago on French regional culture and cuisine, and shared some of my research with my husband as I prepared my grocery list for this recipe. The tomatoes, for example, are very revealing of this recipe's region of origin, considering that tomatoes were a New World food and came to Europe via Spain and Italy. Because of their geographic proximity, you see tomatoes used much more in Southern French recipes than Northern ones.

This has been my most research intensive recipe so far, mainly due to one ingredient in particular: the brandy extract. I needed coconut extract for another recipe from the same cookbook last week, but that one made a little bit more sense to me: coconut milk is high in fat, so fat free evaporated milk with a splash of coconut extract gets the job done in fewer Points. But the brandy extract confused me. The obvious first explanation was to follow one of the classic retro WW rules:

But it seems odd. Cooking with alcohol doesn't seem the same as drinking it - especially if it's a small amount, it won't add many Points. And aren't extracts made of alcohol anyway? I know vanilla extract is, and the coconut extract from last week is too... A quandary indeed!

So, I took to my shelves and the Internet, and tried to find other recipes for Chicken Marengo (or Chicken Napoleon, as it is sometimes called). There didn't seem to be much consensus among them, either - New York Times Cooking called for dry white wine, Epicurious called for dry red, Food Network said white wine with no other details. On "The French Chef," Julia Child used white wine *and* Napoleon brandy or cognac (of course).

In the end, I went with cooking sherry, which I hoped would keep the flavor profile of the original WW recipe. Two tablespoons added 2 Points to the recipe overall, which doesn't matter much because almost everything else was 0 Points.

This was a recipe that took a little bit of time, but mostly inactively - add, simmer, add, simmer, add, and so on. It would be very easy to adapt to the slow cooker, for sure.

It was okay - my husband said it was good, but there was something missing that he couldn't quite name. My son said he didn't care for the chicken, although he ate up most of his piece. I liked it and would make it again, although again, I'd do it in the slow cooker (and I'd add more mushrooms, those were very good in the sauce!)

The WW cookbook suggested serving it with rice or noodles; the Sunset French cookbook suggested topping it with fried eggs and serving it with toast points. I went with quinoa (tracked separately) since it's what we had on hand (and I'd had rice with lunch / the family had noodles for lunch, so this kept things unique).


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