A Little Story About Chicken Marengo!

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

From Napoleon’s battle field of Marengo to a culinary classic.

The legend tells: on the evening of 25 Prairial Year VIII (June 14, 1800), following the painful victory of Marengo, the First Consul Bonaparte was very hungry. His cook, Dunan, sends his clerks to the surrounding farms. They come back with chicken, crayfish, eggs, vegetables, garlic, white wine, herbs, olive oil and more. From this, the chef concocts a new recipe. Bonaparte, delighted, asked him to serve him the same dish after each battle but Dunan, thinking that the crayfish had nothing to do in this preparation, replaced them with mushrooms and other ingredients. But Bonaparte did not want this dish so "improved" and it was necessary to return to the original recipe with crayfish.


History tells us a different story: Dunan is the name of two famous cooks of Swiss origin (possible spellings: Dunant and Dunand) The father directed the kitchens of the “Prince of Condé”. The son inherited his office and followed the prince in exile in 1793 and did not return to France until twelve years later to enter the service of Napoleon in 1805. His name remains in history for the invention of the famous Chicken Marengo attributed to him. Dates do not coincide, Napoleon’s battle at Marengo dates back to 1800, five years before Duran enters serving as Bonaparte’s chef cook. At the fall of the empire Dunand entered the service of the Duke of Berry and later resumed service with Napoleon when the emperor returned for a hundred days.

The origin of the Marengo chicken could be related to the Swiss roots of Dunan who remembered a crayfish chicken speciality of the Jura region. Others say that this recipe comes from Algeria, from the village of Marengo (today Hadjout).

Many popular recipes today replace the chicken for veal cuts.


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© 2018 Wessel Woortman

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