Friday, 28 November 2014

Large Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bottles in John Lewis Food Hall

I was in John Lewis in Oxford Street the other day, where they have a John Lewis Food Hall (not a Waitrose, as is more usual) in the basement.  They have a pretty good wine department there but what really intrigued me was these three big bottles of Veuve Clicquot.  When I was younger I had one of those big book of facts type books which contained things like paper sizes and, apposite to this post, large Champagne bottle names.  

Now of course I am familiar with and have had magnums and jeroboams but I think this is the first time I have actually seen some of the "Biblical" large sized bottles before.  They had a Methuselah (eight bottles) for £575, a Salmanazar (12 bottles for £750  and a Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles for £1400).  Now, of course, the equivalent price per bottle (£70 for the Nebuchadnezzar which is nearly double what Waitrose charge for a single bottle) certainly doesn't provide a bulk discount; in fact you pay far more for the privilege of having such a conversation piece.

Certainly, if I was going to drop £1400 on a bottle of Champagne I wouldn't buy one which had been stored in a hot store, upright and under bright lights.  I stopped drinking Veuve Clicquot because there was a period, a few years ago, when they were selling it with insufficient cellaring time.  I gather it is better now, so maybe I should get one for Christmas.  Not one this big, though.  How would you chill it?  You'd have to put it in a bath full of ice, I suppose, or a dustbin.  Not very elegant ,though.  I suppose if you have seven of them there would be enough to give a lady a bath in it.  

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Beaujolais Nouveau 2014

Back in the nineteen eighties and nineties, the Legatus remembers all the wine bars and off licences in the City celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day in November and it was traditional to go out and drink what was, at best, a rather peculiar-tasting wine on the day. All the supermarkets would have big piles of the wine on sale the following weekend and the newspapers would be full of comparative reviews of the different growers' wines (Beaujolais has always suffered from too many very small winemakers).

A marketing device more that a proper wine, Beaujolais Nouveau is unusual in that it is bottled and released for sale very shortly after harvest (six to eight weeks), originally, since 1951 when it was first created, on November 15th and now, since 1985 on the third Thursday of November.  It makes up slightly less than a third of the total wine production of Beaujolais.

The tradition, in the UK, seems to have lapsed now and I can't remember seeing it for sale in a supermarket for some time but I spotted some in Waitrose yesterday and as it was from the usually reliable (if controversial - the company was fined in 2006 for mixing grapes from other regions into their Beaujolais) Georges Duboeuf I picked up a bottle to take to my particular friend A's, yesterday.

In the US they market it as a Thanksgiving wine and it is the second biggest foreign market for the wine (the French drink more than half of the production).  The biggest foreign market is Japan.  The Japanese love it; importing nearly 8 million bottles last year but then they also enjoy murdering dolphins, buying beetles for pets from vending machines and making dubious films involving women dressed as schoolgirls being tied up and tortured, so their taste is suspect.

Having been in decline since the end of the eighties (1985 saw the peak production of 67 million bottles - the annual total is less than half that today) there are signs of something of a comeback for a wine that the Legatus remembers removing the enamel off his teeth, more often than not.  The Beaujolais region has been trying to improve the quality of the wine over the last decade and has reduced the number of vineyards producing it by over a third to help in this.

SA, A fast lady in every way

I had a girlfriend back in the eighties who took part in the annual Beaujolais Nouveau Run, once.  In 1970 London restaurant owner Marcus Berkmann and TV presenter, writer, Member of Parliament and London Playboy Club director Clement Freud (who we once chatted to about this in the first class carriage of an InterCity 125 train between Bath and London a few years ago) were having a dinner of coq-au-vin at the Hotel Marittones in the Beaujolais region of France. During the course of the dinner they evolved the idea of racing back to London to see who could get a case of the newly bottled Beaujolais Nouveau back home first. They did the same the following year (Berkmann won both times) but then Fleet Street got involved through The Sunday Times and the larger Beaujolais Run took off involving, more often than not, a number of classic British sports cars. People started to get it on to aircraft, including using Concorde, to get the fastest time. Eventually, the Royal Air Force entered and took the record for the run by using a Hawker Harrier jump jet, which was rather unsporting of them.

The Beaujolais Nouveau run still happens although, oddly, it now starts in the UK (including, in 2009, from the Brooklands old motor racing circuit which is just a few miles from where I live) and finishes in Beaujolais.

Anyway, this year's vintage was much better than all of the ones I remember from the past; much more full bodied and fruity but with that typical gamay whiff.  The mouth-puckering acidity had gone and so had the nail polish smell.  Not bad at all!  Probably not worth £7.99 a bottle though!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Micro terrine in Brown's Old Jewry Street


Brown's is a once trendy restaurant chain that originated in Brighton back in 1973. Their second branch was in Oxford but. oddly, I never went to it when I was at university there, in the late seventies and early eighties, because you had to queue outside to get in and the Legatus is not overly fond of queues (Salute and that's it!).  It was very popular with students seeking out Spaghetti Bolognese (which was then considered culinary exotica) and such like and had the added attraction of waitresses wearing short skirts (almost unheard of in 1979) and fishnet tights.

Brown's Oxford

No, I had come into some money. fortuitously, just before I started at College and so was more likely to be found in La Sorbonne, founded by André Chavignon in 1966 (it closed in the early nineties and is now a Thai restaurant).  It was a traditional, classic French restaurant of very high quality where a dinner for two would cost £50 in 1979, at a time when my student grant, from which I had to pay my accommodation, food and book costs, was £1500 a year.  Chavignon's sous-chef was a young fellow by the name of Raymond Blanc who went to set up his own restaurant in North Oxford called Les Quats Saisons.  It had just got it's first Michelin star when I went there in 1980; the first Michelin star restaurant I had ever eaten at.  Chavignon was not amused by Blanc's defection and setting up of a rival top class French restaurant in the city and famously called Blanc un petit rat!

I did eventually go to Brown's in Oxford years later, after attending a college gaudy (an event held every seven years or so for people who started at College in the same year).  These events were always interesting in that you could see how well or badly your peers were ageing.  In my case it was an opportunity to have Port-fuelled nostalgic sex with former girlfriends (there was a lot of that sort of thing going on!).  It was one of said ex-girlfriends who took me to Brown's the next day for the first time.

Brown's Old Jewry Street

However, the branch I visited this week was at Old Jewry Street in the City of London, close to a former office I used to work in.  We used to regularly visit this branch and I still do with a former personal assistant.  I was there with some Canadian lady friends on Monday and I ordered, as a first course,  some terrine. When it arrived however I was appalled by the tiny serving.  I am not exaggerating but the piece was about one and half inches by one inch.  It is the smallest piece of pate or terrine I have ever had in any restaurant anywhere on earth!  £7.50 for this was outrageous!  I don't mind paying for good food but I don't like being ripped off.  Brown's you are on a warning!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What is a Full English Breakfast?

Garfunkels, Terminal 4, London Heathrow Airport, October 2010

I was having lunch with an old friend the other day and we were discussing cooked breakfasts.  Her view was that baked beans were not part of a proper English breakfast and should never be eaten before 6.00pm.  This is an assertion I have heard before, and although I feel that this is a ridiculous notion, it does raise the important question of what does, indeed, constitute a Full English breakfast; one of Britain's great contributions to international gastronomy.  This does not mean, of course, that I don't have my own preferences but I am not tied to externally imposed "rules".

Langham Hotel, London, February 2011

Eschewing the effete bread-based efforts of our continental cousins the cooked English breakfast really came to the fore in the nineteenth century and certainly helped fuel the industrial revolution and assist Britain's rise to the greatest Imperial power the world has ever seen.  Try and run the world by starting the day on a few flaky croissants or some slices of cheese and ham and see how far you get!  

The proper constituents of a Full English breakfast are as controversial as what goes into a Bolognese sauce, Poulet Marengo or a Salad Niçoise.  So let's have a look at the candidates.  I will illustrate them with pictures from my own breakfast experiences!


Hotel Inter-Continental, Lusaka, December 2010

These can be fried, scrambled or poached.  The Legatus much prefers fried eggs but will cope with scrambled, although it is very difficult to get good scrambled eggs in a restaurant, unless prepared to order and impossible in a hotel buffet where they usually take on the same consistency as that marbled foam rubber used in cheap furniture.

Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, October 2009

Poached eggs used to be more popular when I was young (my mother used to attempt them; usually with disastrous results) but now they are the breakfast equivalent of wearing a bow tie every day; slightly pretentiously eccentric.  You do sometimes get them in places that serve Eggs Benedict as part of a cooked breakfast.  I've never been convinced by Eggs Benedict: Hollandaise sauce is too rich for breakfast and the muffin is too thick a platform for the egg.  I did have a good one on the Orient Express twenty years ago but that was an exception.

A  goose egg under way at home June 2013

I prefer two fried eggs but have been known to take one large egg (such as a goose or turkey egg) once in a while.  Currently, I prefer duck eggs to hen's eggs.  If I am having scrambled eggs I prefer three or even four, if they are small.  I tend to eat scrambled egg as a separate meal without all the constituents of a Full English, except, perhaps, some chopped ham. 

Omni Hotel, San Franciso, October 2009

Of course, I did not eat eggs for many years as the government and scientists had decided they were bad for you; something they have now done a complete 180 degree turn on.  I have also had a three fried egg presentation once but that was small eggs cooked as one, giving a thicker white.


Bongusto Restaurant, Victoria, London, March 2009

People in most countries can produce a good fried egg but when it comes to bacon Britain really does reign supreme.  What passes for bacon in most countries are dark brown, greasy strips of fat cooked until they are brittle; like baked shoe leather and about as tasty.  Proper bacon for a Full English should be back bacon.  Each rasher is made up of one part (the larger part) of pork loin and one part of pork belly. The American brittle bacon is exclusively the fattier pork belly variety.  In fact, quite often I jettison the pork belly piece and just have the pork loin medallions. Properly cooked bacon should be soft not brittle.  Some foreign hotels and restaurants serve ham instead of proper bacon but this is a poor substitute.


Grand Cafe Royal Exchange, London, November 2011

You can't have a Full English without sausages (plural, please) otherwise it is just bacon and egg or a cooked breakfast.  These is nothing wrong with bacon and egg but it makes a lightweight start to the day without some serious meat to back it up.  Sadly, most Full English breakfasts in restaurants or cafes are let down by the sausage, which is often of poor quality compared with the bacon.

Chipolatas from Maurice Jones at home, March 2014

This is an area where the home cooked version of a Full English triumphs (in the same way as a traditional Sunday lunch is best at home) as you have complete quality control.  I get my sausages from prize-winning sausage maker Maurice Jones & Sons in Oatlands, Surrey. Vastly superior to anything from a supermarket.  You need to get there early if you want them on Saturday, however!

Arsenale Hotel, Cartagena, November 2013

The variety of sausages you get around the world is startling; including turkey and beef ones in Muslim countries.  In South America I have had spicy ones reminiscent of Spanish chorizo (which just means sausage of course, anyway - "chorizo sausage" is tautologous) which while interesting aren't really right first thing in the morning.

Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, October 2009

My worst sausage experience was the sausage meat I had in Philadelphia which was dripping in maple syrup.  Disgusting!


Côte London Bridge, London, May 2014 

I admit that I don't always have mushrooms if I am cooking breakfast at home but there is a good argument that they are a compulsory ingredient for a proper Full English Breakfast.  Americans can find the fact that we have mushrooms for breakfast in Britain, rather odd.  In fact they are one of the newer ingredients as they have only been cultivated in Britain since, surprisingly, the mid-twentieth century.  What you get in restaurants varies between whole or halved small button mushrooms, sliced larger cup mushrooms or a whole or sliced large flat mushrooms.  I prefer the middle option. Never, never tinned mushrooms though!


Gossips Cafe, Yarmouth Isle of Wight, August 2011

These are another compulsory ingredient (even more so than mushrooms).  Fried or grilled they should be soft to the point of disintegration.  They should not have, as some hotels offer, cheese on them.  Even worse are the places that put pesto on them.  They should also not be tinned.  There is an increasing fashion in London for more upmarket places to serve plum tomatoes sliced in two vertically but, again, this is a bit prissy.


Sainsbury's Cobham, May 2014

This is usually served on the side but the Legatus likes it as an integral part of the full plate.  When I was small I would be given egg, bacon and fried bread for breakfast but fried bread is disappearing before the onslaught of the healthy eating brigade.  Frying a slice of bread at least doubles the calories but as a typical Full English breakfast comes in at about 1000 calories plus that really isn't going to matter that much.  I tend to have toast rather than fried bread as it is more absorbent for soaking up bean and tomato juice etc.

Baked Beans

Churchill Cafe, Whitehall, London, November 2011

Baked beans seem such a staple of a Full English that I was genuinely surprised by those who maintain that it shouldn't be included.  I would venture that such people are in the minority now and that their insistence that beans should only be eaten after 6.00 pm is rather akin to those who insist on saying "an" when the following word begins with an "h".  They are technically correct, perhaps, but the English Breakfast, like the English language, is constantly evolving.  Britain makes and consumes more baked beans that any other nation on earth; to the extent that in February this year a government minister here was trying to encourage people to eat less of them to avoid the excess generation of gases that contribute to global warming.  I am not joking!  The UK version of baked beans is very different from those served in the US which have more than twice the sugar in them.  In fact, Heinz Baked Beans, which were first imported from America and sold as a luxury item in Fortnum & Mason in the nineteenth century, are now exported to the US, having been made here since 1928.  They started to become part of a cooked breakfast in the late sixties and I would say that, despite the naysayers, they are now completely integral to the Full English Breakfast.


Giraffe, South Bank, London, February 2011

These are another controversial ingredient.  Probably, traditionally, bubble and squeak, a fried mixture of shredded potato and cabbage, was included in earlier versions of the Full English.  This has now, largely, been supplanted by American hash browns, saute potatoes or chips (French fries for our American cousins).  I have had shredded potato mixed with other things in foreign hotels.

Royal York Hotel, Toronto, August 2010

I would venture that chips are really only served when the Full English is served at lunch time lunch as an "all-day breakfast".  This is certainly the practice in the breakfast Nirvana that is Eegon's of Cowes.  For their larger breakfasts they serve saute potatoes.  I have never been that fond of hash browns but they are more digestible in the morning than solid potato.  Producing potato dishes as an accompaniment to a Full English at home really does add an extra level of complexity to the whole performance, however.

Black Pudding

Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh, September 2013

Is black pudding (a blood sausage) a part of an authentic Full English or a regional variation in the manner of cockles (yes, really) in Wales, Soda Bread in Ireland or haggis in Scotland?  The traditionalists maintain that it should be included and, certainly, it was certainly part of the cooked breakfasts served at my college, although that had a lot of people from the north of England as students.  The Legatus, being from the south, thinks that this is a northern affectation but it certainly adds to the finished article.

Eegon's, Cowes, Isle of Wight, August 2013

So, according to some writers, these are the "magic nine" ingredients which transform a "cooked breakfast" or "fry up" into a "Full English breakfast".  As we have seen, however, there is not universal agreement on this.  I have also had, onion rings and steak included, especially in the terrifying Steakfast from Eegons; the only cooked breakfast in the world I was unable to finish.

Braid Hills Hotel, Edinburgh, August 2016

Latterly, since I have been spending more time in Scotland I have added haggis to my home-cooked breakfasts; usually in small fried slices but occasionally using the leftovers from a complete haggis.  When in Scotland, of course, I always have haggis in my breakfast.

Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh, February 2013

Interestingly, in checking through my photographs I realise that I haven't actually had a breakfast with all the "magic nine" in it.  The closest I have got was this superb example from Scotland which had haggis but no potato and fried bread instead of toast.  Something to strive for still!  

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Poulet à la Marengo: The dish named after Napoleon’s victory

Published today in Wargame Bloggers Quarterly is this piece on Poulet Marengo.  By posting it here I am reversing the trend in the magazine for putting a piece in it based on a blog posting.  I wrote this as a specific commission (thanks to Big Red Bat for putting my name forward) for the magazine and it has only become a blog posting now!  En avant!

It was my father who introduced me to the story behind Poulet Marengo. He also started me on my interest in Napoleonic military history and in the early seventies took me to see the Sergei Bondurchuck film Waterloo at the cinema and to Les Invalides in Paris, where he bought me a couple of splendid Starlux plastic 54mm French cavalry. Airfix Napoleonics followed and he bought me my first metal figures: Hinchliffe Imperial Guard and carabineers. 

My first metal painted figures.  Hinchliffe Imperial Guard completed 1971

Other than military history (he had served in North Africa in WW2 and Palestine afterwards), American architecture, wine (I had my first glass of wine at the age of two and a half – I’d probably have been taken into care by social services these days) and women, what he really liked was French cooking. He had a French friend, Lou, who was prototypically Gallic in a sort of Gilbert Bécaud way, whose house in Roussillon we borrowed during the summer holidays. My father was able to indulge his taste for French regional cooking, local wine (which even at the age of eight I realised was pretty rough in the area the house was – I can’t believe the price Corbières is now – you could get it for 5 centimes a litre then, if you supplied your own bottle), Gauloises and, I strongly suspect, French women. 

Certainly, when we were on holiday he would do all the cooking, delighting in the fact that the house was located in prime cassoulet country and dragging us around markets in places like Cahors as he tried to obtain some obscure ingredient. There were a quartet of key French dishes that defined his cooking: Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Cassoulet and Poulet Marengo. The first three were very popular in restaurants in Britain in the late sixties and seventies but Poulet Marengo was less so. This, I suspect, was to do with the rather odd set of ingredients involved. “After the Battle of Marengo,” my father told me “Napoleon sent his chef out to find him something to eat. He came back with some chickens, tomatoes, eggs and crayfish and invented the dish using those ingredients.” I was immediately doubtful when I was told that the egg was fried and put on the top. I also had no idea what crayfish were but fish, fried eggs and chicken did not sound promising. This was the only one of my father’s four classic French dishes that I don’t remember him ever cooking for me. Perhaps the difficulty of sourcing crayfish had something to do with it. After all, we could only have cassoulet if he had bought the key ingredients (particularly confit d’oie) in France. One of his other favourites was paella but in the late sixties there was just one shop in Soho where you could then buy the now ubiquitous chorizo. So, I was always intrigued by this dish with its Napoleonic connection and thought that it might make an interesting post. 

The Battle 

The Battle of Marengo by Louis-François Lejeune

The climax of Napoleon’s Italian campaign, the battle was fought on June 14 1800 near the city of Alessandria in Piedmont, in Northern Italy, between the French Consular Army under Napoleon, in his first battle as head of state and an Austrian army under General Melas. The hamlet of Marengo was sited at a key point on the battlefield which the Austrians had to take in order to deploy properly. One of the bloodiest battles of the nineteenth century, the details of the battle are subject to controversy, not least because Napoleon subsequently had the accounts of the battle rewritten so that what looked like an imminent rout for the retreating French, saved by a fortuitous counterattack (led by Desaix and General François Kellermann’s famous heavy cavalry) was later transformed into a clever, according to Napoleon, pre-planned feigned retreat, brilliant manoeuver and calculated strike back. The fact was that Napoleon was very, very lucky and some have even said that the creation of Poulet Marengo was a deliberate part of Napoleon’s PR effort to re-cast the battle as a brilliant triumph complete with lovable food-linked legend. 

The Legend

Marie-Antoine Careme the real architect of Poulet Marengo?

The official version of the story of the creation goes something like this. After the battle the wagons carrying food supplies were nowhere to be found. Dunant, Napoleon’s chef, anxious to provide for his master, sent out a foraging party who returned with a number of chickens, tomatoes, garlic, eggs and crayfish from the Bormida River. After preparing the chickens they were chopped up with a sword and cooked with the tomatoes and garlic. The eggs were fried and added to the dish on serving with the crayfish which were poached in some white wine. Napoleon loved the dish so much he insisted it was served after very one oif his battles. This gives us a nice, clear recipe of a dish with somewhat eccentric ingredients. Still, it is, perhaps, this curious combination which has kept the dish on the culinary scene for 200 years. Sadly, however, the story is absolute nonsense. None of the contemporary accounts of the battle mention the dish. For a start, Dunant was not Napoleon’s chef at the time. In June 1800 he was living in Moscow as the chef to the Condé family, who had fled France during the Revolution. Dunant didn’t enter Napoleon’s service until August 1802. Secondly, it is likely that Napoleon dined with Kellerman after the battle with food provided by the Convent de Bosco in exchange for being safeguarded from looting. There was jubilation in Paris after the battle and this Marengo mania must have resulted in the dish itself, although it isn’t recorded until 1814; but by then was on the menu of many of Paris’ top restaurants. It didn’t appear in a recipe book until 1820. Whoever created it (there have been suggestions that it was the great chef Marie-Antoine Carême) its popularity remained for 150 years until nouvelle cuisine, and increasing interest in ethnic food, essentially killed off traditional French dishes with rich sauces in restaurants. You will be hard pushed to find the dish on the menu of a restaurant today; which means that you will have to cook it yourself.

Order of Battle 

There is really no definitive Poulet Marengo recipe. Like cassoulet and Salade Niçoise the authentic ingredients are much argued about.  Really, like selecting a wargames army, you can choose from a number of troop choices.

Core Units


This is, in reality, the only 100% universal ingredient. You see veal and rabbit Marengo sometimes but they, of course, are just variants on the original not options. Napoleon was very fond of chicken and often had it for breakfast. which he tended to take late in the morning. There are those, therefore, who argue that Poulet Marengo is just a retrospective appellation given to the Poulet à la Provençale he often had for déjeuner.


Pretty much every recipe has these but some writers have argued that tomatoes would not have been available in Piedmont in June. Certainly some of the earliest versions of the recipe eschew them.

Olive Oil

Olive oil with pictures of girls on the label always tastes better 

Again, not everyone agrees that the dish was cooked in olive oil, which was something more common in the south of Italy. In this part of the country, walnut oil would have been more likely. Butter and dripping have also been offered as alternatives. Your cardiologist would certainly prefer olive oil, however.


Again not everyone agrees on this but I think it is a necessity and is in many of the versions of the original story.

Elite Units


These are certainly mentioned in most of the accounts of the dish being assembled. Lately, because of the difficulty of obtaining them, many recipes leave them out altogether or replace them with prawns. Freshwater crayfish are seasonal (May to September at their best in Britain) but you can sometimes get them at a good fishmonger (if you can find such a thing these days). They do add significantly to the taste of the dish and, anyway, they contribute to the sense of the randomly collected ingredients of the legend. You can get crayfish tails in some supermarkets but these are usually very small.


Some accounts of the original recipe mention truffles but these are more likely a later addition by Parisian restaurants. One version of the story says that Dunant hoped his foragers could find some truffles but they failed.


Some of the early accounts call for Cognac (as used in Coq au Vin to deglaze the pan) but this is usually omitted today. White wine is usually added although Robert Carrier (whose recipes are usually infallible) uses dry sherry. One account says that when Dunant added wine to the recipe, when he cooked it for Napoleon on another occasion, Napoleon rejected because it was not in the original recipe. Several accounts say that the wine was just to poach the crayfish in.

Heavy support 

Fried Egg

Pretty much every recipe includes the fried egg and it is one of the signature elements of the dish.


The original story had Dunant using some soldiers’ biscuits but you are more likely to see slices of fried French bread, often to act as a bed for the fried egg or, sometimes, in included, the mushrooms.

Light Support 

Chicken stock

Pretty much essential this. Fresh is best, of course (I make it and freeze it) but there are good supermarket options these days. Bouquet garni Bay leaf, tarragon, parsley etc.

Pepper and salt

Certainly black pepper but I personally never add salt to food.


These were probably only added to the recipe to replace the more expensive truffles


Many recipes include onions, as well as garlic, and shallots in particular.


The inclusion of these is more likely a throwback to Chicken Provencale, considered by some to be the origin of the dish.


Unlikely to be found on an inland battlefield, I suspect these were added as a fishy alternative to crayfish.

Lemon juice

Some recipes include a squeeze of lemon juice but I suspect this is linked to the crayfish cooking process.

 The Recipe 

You can mix and match from many of the ingredients above but this is how I cooked it. I don’t give quantities for everything because I am not that sort of cook. I base everything on feel and experience as I have been cooking French recipes for forty-five years now.

My ingredients: 

• Chicken. I used chicken breasts but you can add chicken legs or a whole chicken jointed (more authentic – especially if you use a sabre).
•A dozen small shallots or one small onion and two cloves of garlic, finely chopped
• Flour (about a tablespoon).
• Black pepper.
•A tablespoon of olive oil.
•A glass of white wine, such as Gavi.
•Tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are, perhaps, more appropriate but in recipes like this I think you get more taste from high quality tinned Italian ones than fresh, supermarket greenhouse ones. If using fresh tomatoes they need to be peeled, seeded and chopped. Tinned ones just need slicing
• Chicken stock - homemade or in a pot or sachet from the supermarket. Not chicken stock cubes!
• Bouquet garni. You can get good ready-made ones in little muslin bags.
• Cooked crayfish tails. For small ones from the supermarket about a dozen would be fine for two people and half a dozen, if large fresh ones, which will need cooking first.

The process

•Brown the chicken at a medium heat in the olive oil in a heavy frying pan or, ideally, a cast iron casserole.  Keeping the lid on during this process keeps the chicken from drying out.
•Then add the chopped shallots and garlic and sprinkle the flour over it all. Mix the flour into the onion/garlic and add black pepper. Cook until the shallots are transparent.

 •Add the chopped tomatoes, bouquet garni, white wine and top up with stock until the chicken in covered. Cover the pan and cook in an oven (for a casserole) or on the hob (for a pan) so that it simmers for about forty-five minutes and the sauce thickens. If it’s not thickening take the lid off for a while.
•Shortly before serving, fry slices of a thin French loaf to make croutons. Put to one side.
•Add the crayfish tails to the casserole.
•Fry one egg per person.
•Remove the bouquet garni and serve the contents of the casserole. Add the croutons to the plate and top with the fried egg.

Serve with 

This is a rich dish so I just had peas but you often see it served with ribbon pasta. Napoleon was very fond of potatoes (at a time when many saw these as animal feed only) so they would be a good choice too.


Napoleon was not much of a drinker and invariably had his wine watered down. He drank, almost exclusively, Chambertin but any recipe that includes wine in Poulet Marengo specifies white wine. Piedmont is very much a red wine area apart from the sparkling Asti and, more appropriately Gavi. Gavi di Gavi is the best of this region and is what I put in the dish and served with it. La Scolca, which is the best Gavi di Gavi, is served at every first night at La Scala opera house in Milan. I was introduced to this wine when living in Rome by a splendid young lady who was a princess of the Borghese family, whose direct ancestor was married to Napoleon’s sister, Paulina!

There is actually a book about this dish, although it is as much about the political machinations of Napoleon after the battle as the culinary aspects. Napoleon’s Chicken Marengo: creating the myth of Emperor’s favourite dish by Andrew Uffindell.

Another blog!

Poulet Marengo

Well, I haven't set up a new blog for some time and I have been thinking of doing one on food and drink for ages but wasn't sure which of my online incarnations to use.  In the end I settled on this onem even though it will have a lot less traffic than my other ones.  

Here I will post about meals out, wine drunk and post some recipes, including some from my other incarnation's blog.