Veal Marengo: behind the dish

How did a traditional French dish get the name of a city in Italy?

Food lore tells us that the first “Marengo” dish in history comes to us courtesy of Napoleon’s own chef. Following Napoleon’s defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in northwest Italy, Chef Dunand needed to create a dish for the troops from the food he was able to forage in the surrounding area. He combined a scrawny chicken, some crayfish, eggs, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic into a sauce, and thus Chicken Marengo was born. Napoleon associated the dish with his army’s good luck and forever after insisted that it be served following each battle. He also insisted it be made with the same ingredients each time, so as not to jinx his success. (No surprise, then, that there’s no such thing as Chicken Waterloo.)

The term “Marengo” has come to be applied to any sauce for meat or fish that includes tomatoes and, often, mushrooms and onions (although Napoleon would surely have frowned on these variations). Julia Child’s recipe for Veal Marengo from MtAoFC also leaves out the crayfish and eggs, all apologies to the Emperor.

One great thing about Veal Marengo is that it’s one of Julia’s dishes that’s not all that hard to make at home. Many cooks first tackling a Julia recipe try this one among their initial efforts. For our version, we core, blanch, seed and dice our own rooftop tomatoes to give it that extra-special fresh local tomato flavor, and if you have ripe garden tomatoes as well, this is a great way to use them. But if you don’t, it’s easy enough to make it with diced canned tomatoes instead.

What’s the easiest thing you can do to make your stews taste better (aside from using better cuts of meat)? Caramelize the meat chunks properly by making sure you dry them thoroughly before browning them in oil. It makes all the difference in the world between getting pieces of steamed cooked meat and pieces of caramelized cooked meat — which means more flavor.

After we’re done caramelizing our veal, we remove it from the pan, add our onions and caramelize them, then return the veal and add mushrooms, the diced tomatoes and fresh Genovese basil from the rooftop garden, along with the other sauce ingredients. After it all simmers a good long while, it’s a hearty and satisfying dish, cozied up next to a bed of mashed potatoes.

Tonight we’re also bringing back a dessert favorite from last week, the Apple Turnovers for which we provide the recipe in today’s News-Herald. Sounds good? It tastes even better!

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