Chicken Marengo

In June of 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte led the French army to a decisive victory against the Austrian army in Marengo (present-day Italy), an important battle during the French Revolutionary Wars. Legend has it that the French supply carts failed to catch up to their soldiers, and so Napoleon’s chef had to forage for ingredients in the local village. Returning with a chicken, olives, and some crawfish, the chef threw them together into the dish now known as Chicken Marengo, and served it with grilled bread topped with a fried egg. Napoleon, who was known to have bad digestion due to wolfing down his meals, enjoyed the dish so much that he requested it after every subsequent battle.

History has its fair share of eccentric leaders. Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) had three of his eight(!) wives banished to spend their remaining days in an abbey, and legend has it he had an elephant executed when it refused to bow before him. Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) supposedly had awful table manners and an insatiable sweet tooth. US Presidents have been fairly interesting too, from Chester A. Arthur, who wore several changes of pants each day, to James A. Garfield, who could write with both hands at the same time, in different languages (Latin and Greek). Ulysses S. Grant smoked over 20 cigars a day (but later succumbed to throat cancer). FDR supposedly enjoyed driving around in Al Capone’s armored car, which had been seized by the US Treasury Dept when Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion. Also, two US Presidents (Carter and Reagan) have claimed to witness UFOs.

Today, Chicken Marengo is only rarely made with crawfish – shrimp are a fair substitute – but given that crawfish season just started here in the Florida panhandle, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try the real deal. Instructions for both shrimp and crawfish are provided below!

Chicken Marengo (Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet, Paleo, Primal, Whole30 adaptable)

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy

2 tbsp white rice flour, gluten-free all-purpose flour, or Otto’s cassava flour
4 bone-in chicken thighs, skins removed (boneless skinless thighs okay)
2 tbsp butter or ghee
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes, fire-roasted prefered
1/2 lb white mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp pepper, more to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 lb cooked crawfish (or raw, tail-on shrimp)
1 (3.5oz) can black olives, drained
1 (3.5oz) can green olives, drained
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

1. In a mixing bowl, toss the chicken with the white rice flour until coated; reserve the remaining flour. In a deep skillet or dutch oven, warm the butter and olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add the thighs and brown on each side until slightly crispy, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and set aside.

2. Add the onion to the skillet and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the leftover white rice flour, and stir to combine. Saute until the flour turns golden, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes; stir in the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and mushrooms until well-mixed. Add the wine, broth, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, and nutmeg; stir to combine. As the mixture returns to a simmer, return the chicken to the skillet, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the chicken is just tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Uncover the stew and add the crawfish (or shrimp) and both sets of olives. Simmer, uncovered, until the crawfish is heated through, or the shrimp is pink and curled, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley, add salt and pepper to taste, then serve.

** For Whole30, substitute the white wine with 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup water.

25 thoughts on “Chicken Marengo

  1. Okay, I have to ask about the “unshelled” shellfish. This looks awesome, but I’m curious about how one eats this. Do you scoop up a crawfish, dripping in red sauce, and twist the buggers open to suck the meat out? With one’s fingers? I’ve eaten crawfish this way, but they weren’t dripping in red sauce. Just curious.
    I think I may use tail-on shelled shrimp, because I’m making this for company this weekend.

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    1. Good question! There were a few thoughts into why I used shell-on crawfish. First was that it looks much better in a photo, and captures the essence of what Napoleon likely experienced at the dinner table back in 1800; I imagine him making a nice mess! It was certainly pretty messy as I ate it, but I enjoyed the experience. I don’t think there is any big loss to using crawfish tails, or shelled shrimp, especially when serving guests!

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  2. This is the first time that I’ve seen a recipe for this. Thanks for bringing an historically based recipe to light! The flavor combos sound very interesting and delightful!

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  3. If I double the chicken thighs (I’d like to be able to eat this for a couple days with our family) and the shrimp …. Do I need to double all the other ingredients as well? And what would you serve this with? White rice??

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    1. Hi Sarah, the amount of sauce in this recipe is fairly minimal, so I think if you doubled the chicken and shrimp you’d end up with a disparate ratio of meat/sauce. I would recommend just doubling the whole recipe. We served it with white rice, and it worked great!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I prepared this tonight with extra. Used shrimp in the shell and provided extra napkins. Also added some yellow peppers and zucchini into the mix. Used a good Pinot Grigio and drank the extra. All in all a great recipe. Family enjoyed very much. Thank you! N.

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  5. Hey Russ, My family and I love your recipes! I struggled to make the healthy food I like palatable for my children’s very picky taste buds until I found your stuff. I purchased Ancestral Table and love it of course. Can’t wait to buy and try your others also. I’m sure you have been made aware, but I wanted to inform you just in the case you have not. Your app has stopped loading. I’ve uninstalled it and reinstalled it to make sure it wasn’t my iPhone. Same result. I’ve included a picture for your reference. I hope not to add to your stress and instead encourage your success.

    Thank you for all that you do!

    Best Regards,

    Aaron Bozzi

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for the kind words! Unfortunately, the company who created and hosted my app went through a rebranding and are no longer supporting it. I’m looking for alternatives, but it might be a while before I have things up and running again – thanks for your patience!

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  6. Regarding the use of whole shellfish … There is a massive flavor boost your dish gets from cooking with all the natural fat and juices hidden inside the bodies. The fat itself is considered a delicacy in Louisiana and makes sauce luscious. Don’t omit it by using “rinsed” tail meat that normally comes from buying bags of processed tails with the shells discarded. The results are less tasty!

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    1. Thanks, Danielle! That’s partly what I wondered. I guess it would be worth trying both ways: hassle-factor vs. flavor factor. I can see the case for both sides now.

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  7. My husband does not eat seafood and neither of us cares for olives but this looks incredible. Wondering if I could use some seafood stock for flavor but omit the shrimp/crawfish. Also wondering what I could sub for flavor without adding olives. Maybe I could put the olives but just pick them out when it’s time to eat? This really does look amazing! May just give it a shot.

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    1. Hi Annah, you’re right, I would replace the chicken stock with seafood stock (or clam juice) to get a seafood flavor without eating any shrimp or crawfish. How do you feel about capers? I would substitute 2 tbsp of capers (plus their juice) for the olives to get a similar flavor profile; otherwise, you could cook the dish with the olives and pick them out, as you suggested. Best of luck, please let me know how it turns out!

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      1. Hi Russ, I unfortunately cannot eat seafood at all, even using a seafood stock would be too much for me – the rest of the recipe sounds delicious – would it still be worth it making this and skipping the seafood all together or should I just look to other recipes?

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