|Photo by Steve Shanahan|
First published Canberra Times 10 July 2013.
Served in bistros all over France, this retro dish comes with its own crazy legend with Napoleon Bonaparte at its centre. Marengo is a town in northern Italy where, in 1800, Napoleon was victorious over the Austrians. This has been immortalised as the Battle of Marengo.
The story goes that Napoleon’s chef, directed to come up with a suitably celebratory feast, whipped up a dish using ingredients that he was able to scrounge locally and named it Chicken Marengo to honour the decisive battle. Fortunately, some of the original ingredients such as scrambled eggs and crayfish haven’t survived to current versions of this recipe.
Napoleon, with all his insecurities, needed constant reminders of his victory, so also named his horse Marengo. Given Napoleon’s temperamental nature, we can only hope that Marengo didn’t end his days in the cooking pot in yet another variation of this eponymous dish.
So now that’s straight, my memories of this dish aren’t quite as auspicious as those above. Back in the 1960s when Mum wanted to impress at a dinner party, she would often trot out Chicken or Veal Marengo. It was served with a Napoleonic flourish, inside a ring of rice or buttered noodles, and we thought ourselves pretty sophisticated.
I admit I haven’t really been able to figure out when veal replaced chicken, why crayfish and eggs were ditched or how and why mushrooms got involved. But the result is a hearty winter stew that is easy to make and delivers flavour considerably more than the sum of its parts.
Made with veal, this dish is much richer and more complex than when made with chicken.
3 tbsp plain flour, for coating veal
salt and pepper
1 kg boneless veal, cubed
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
1½ tins diced tomatoes, drained
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 ½ cups dry white wine
sprig of thyme, rosemary and 2 bay leaves
12 small eschalot onions, peeled
1 cup water
12 small white mushrooms, stems removed and wiped
10 baby potatoes, unpeeled
Preheat the oven to 165C. Using a large ovenproof and stovetop proof casserole dish with lid, cut a round of baking paper big enough to fit the lid. This will reduce the amount of evaporation of juices while cooking. For this dish I usually use my Chasseur pot.
Season the flour with salt and pepper and place in a large dish. Add the diced veal and roll to coat in the flour in batches. Shake off excess flour and set aside.
To the ovenproof dish, add two tablespoons of olive oil and place over high heat. When hot, slip in some of the veal and fry in batches to not overcrowd the dish. Cook the veal cubes till brown and then transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining oil and veal.
Wipe out the dish with paper towel, add the butter and place over medium heat. When hot, add the chopped onion and cook for about five minutes or until soft. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and herbs. Add the veal and stir, bringing to a boil. Check for salt and pepper, adding more if needed.
Add the water, eschalots, mushrooms and potatoes and bring back to the boil. Once boiled remove the lid and place the baking paper circle on the top. Replace the lid and insert into the preheated oven.
Bake in the oven undisturbed for forty-five minutes until the potatoes and onions are softened. Fish out the herbs and discard.
Serve with a sprinkle of parsley and a potato rosti.
If you feel inclined to replicate retro, you could serve this dish with buttered thick noodles or boiled rice.
Makes 4 large rosti.
3 medium sized potatoes
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp duck fat or oil
3 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
Parboil the potatoes whole with skin on in salted water until just tender, but not soft. Allow to cool and chill for a couple of hours.
Once cooled, coarsely grate the potatoes and squeeze out any excess liquid. Place grated potato into a bowl and add flour, mixing to combine. Season to taste and add nutmeg.
Heat half the butter and oil in a small heavy based frypan on a high heat.
Add a heaped tablespoon of the potato mixture to the pan and press down with the back of a spoon to form a flat pancake. Allow to cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan to loosen the potato cake.
When the cooked side is crispy and golden, using a spatula or egg lifter, carefully turn the rosti over to cook the other side until golden.
Remove each potato cake to cool on paper towel.
Serve with Veal Marengo as a side dish.