This much we know: In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte's army marched across the Alps into what is now northwestern Italy, in pursuit of the Austrian army. What followed was the Battle of Marengo, and Napoleon won a decisive victory.
As legend has it (not that we believe a word of it, but it's a good story), Napoleon's chef is said to have accompanied his boss on this campaign, supposedly riding a mule. We don't know if mules were considered first-class transportation back then. Maybe everyone else was on foot. Nevertheless, it does not exactly reek of dignity.
In any event, goes the legend, after the battle, Napoleon was famished and wanted dinner. The chef managed to scrounge up a chicken, some tomatoes and a few other ingredients from the countryside, and Chicken Marengo was born. Bonaparte liked it so much that it became his lucky dish. Or so they say.
The dish traditionally includes black olives, but we've specified kalamata olives, as they're our favorite. You can also use Nicoise olives, or really any black or purple olive from the Mediterranean. We'd stay away from the common Mission olive (i.e. come in cans at the grocery store) as they just don't have the same flavor.
Also note that we are specifying breast filets, which are about half the size of a full-sized chicken breast. If your butcher only has whole breasts, ask them to filet them for you. They'll probably be glad for something to do. You can even tell them the Napoleon story.
- 4 (4 ounces) chicken breast filets (boneless and skinless)
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion (peeled and sliced)
- 1 cup grape tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes, sliced into halves or thirds)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives (or other black olives, pitted and chopped)
- 1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves (stripped from their stems)
- Kosher salt (to taste)
- Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Season chicken breasts with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high. Add olive oil and heat for another minute. Add chicken to pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side until the breasts are lightly browned. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
Add some butter to the pan and heat until it foams. Then add the onions and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add wine and bring mixture to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomato wedges. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes or until chicken is tender and cooked through.
Remove chicken and plate it. Add the chopped olives and thyme to the pan and cook for another minute, then top the chicken with the sauce and serve immediately.