It All Started With Some Asparagus


I had picked up some beautiful asparagus at the farmers market and was trying to decide what to do with it. As great as it is steamed with a little salt, olive oil and lemon juice, sometimes you want to step out of your own little rut.

That’s when I remembered Marengo.

There are many things I remember from my 2 years at CCI, many excellent recipes, chefs and fellow students that I cherish. French Classical may not have been my favorite class, but at least it wasn’t at the bottom of the list (that honor goes to Garde Manger, in case you were wondering). One recipe in particular, though, does stand out from that class: Poulet Sauté Marengo.

And it used asparagus. At least, that’s how I remember it from class (the book says nothing about it, but that’s beside the point). So I decided that it was a perfect mid-week dinner.

Next time I decide to relive French Classical, it will be on a weekend.

Poulet Saute Marengo a la Scraps
Poulet Sauté Marengo (a la Scraps), with Duchesse-style Potatoes

Again, Escoffier doesn’t write recipes like we’re used to. Here’s his version of the dish:

3225 Poulet Sauté Marengo

Season the pieces of chicken and sauté them in oil. Drain off the oil and deglaze the pan with [5 oz] white wine and reduce by half. Add the roughly chipped flesh only of 2 tomatoes, or 1.5 tbs tomato purée, a touch of crushed garlic, 10 cooked small button mushrooms, 10 slices of truffle and [5 oz] Jus lié.

Finish cooking together then arrange the pieces of chicken in a deep dish and coat with the sauce and garnish. Surround with 4 heart-shaped Croûtons of bread fried in butter, 4 trussed crayfish cooked in Court-bouillon and 4 small French fried eggs. Sprinkle with coarsely chipped parsley.

I, of course, made a few adjustments both to ingredients and procedure. One was to substitute roasted red bell peppers for the tomatoes (it lists flesh-only, by the way, to mean leave out the seeds) and skipped the mushrooms and truffles altogether (the former as Todd’s not a big fan and the latter for lack of availability). The other was to make the sauce with the chicken still in the pan. I have two reasons for this:

  1. I despise the practice of cooking something and then letting it sit out on the side to cool (and toughen) while the rest of the meal cooks. In most cases I find it completely unnecessary. We call this hokey-pokey chicken at home and avoid it whenever possible.
  2. Cooking the sauce with the meat, when possible, adds additional flavor to the protein in question. Who wants more flavor? We do. I bet you do, too (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this).

Preparation is key with many dishes and this recipe was popular back when there were full kitchen brigades to handle the various steps. Thinking ahead will save you much anxiety when you’re trying to get dinner onto the table.

Start by chopping everything you’ll need for the entire process: chop the peppers or tomatoes and mushrooms if you’re using them, crush the garlic, stem the asparagus and shape the croûtons.

Next, make the Jus lié that you need for the sauce. Jus lié is a shortcut (even the great ones used them!) for demi glace–the concentrated veal stock that adds so much flavor. It’s gravy. Start with double the amount of stock you need (in this case, a cup and a quarter of beef stock) and reduce it (by boiling) by half. Make a slurry of cornstarch and water and whisk this into the reduced stock, cooking until it thickens and set aside until needed.

Steps to Marengo

Steps to Marengo--it sounds like a dance, and that's NOT far from the truth!

French cooking is notorious for being both complicated and messy. Remember what I said about kitchen brigades? Precisely. I prefer to combine steps and reuse pans whenever it won’t hurt the finished dish in order to keep my kitchen from looking as much of a wreck as it could.

For instance, the croûtons called to be cooked in butter. I figure I’m going to need a pan for the chicken, later, and it uses oil (olive, in my house), so why not start the croûtons in oil, first, set them aside to cool, and then move straight onto the chicken? No good reason not to, so on we go.

The chicken is seasoned with just salt and pepper–the flavor (as with many French dishes) comes from the sauce. Get them nice and golden brown on each side and then add the wine to the pan and deglaze it all together. Once the wine has reduced, push the chicken to one side (in this case, I stacked one pair on top of the other) and add the sauce ingredients to the pan until combined. Once the sauce is set up, spread the chicken around so that everything gets nice and cozy together and let it cook while you handle the rest of the ingredients.

While the chicken and sauce cooks, get your steamer set up for your asparagus and combine the crawfish tails with a little stock and seasonings to perk them up. I allowed 6 per serving, so about half a cup of tail meat. Set the crawfish on low—they’re already cooked, we just want them nice and warm.

Oh, right, now you need to do the French fried eggs! Go ahead and make those up while the sauce sauces and the asparagus steams. The idea is that everything comes together just before serving.

Building the Plate

Building the Plate

Now, I’m not usually one for architectural food (a dish piled so high you have to dismantle it before you can eat it) but, in this case, the stacking serves a purpose.

Beginning with the croûton, build the dish in layers: a croûton, a chicken breast, a large spoonful of sauce from the pan, asparagus spears, the crawfish tails and a single French fried egg. Add your side and you’ve got a beautiful dinner to share with someone special (or keep all to yourself—no one’s going to judge you, here).

Now, the point of the stacking rests solely on that French fried egg. See, you make your first cut down the center of the tower, egg to toast, and the yolk flows down, combining all the flavors into one lovely, rich sauce. It’s simply amazing.

An Aside on A Side (dish)

Originally I was going to go all out and make Tourné Potatoes as a side dish for the Marengo. Tourner is a cutting style that makes the vegetable look like a little football with 7 equal sides and blunt ends. A favorite for knife skills exams and fru-fru potato salad.

Not only is it a slightly wasteful cutting style (unless you’ve got something to put those peelings into afterwards) it’s also a pain in the ass, as I was so quickly reminded when it took 30 minutes to get a dozen cut and they weren’t exactly perfect.

Tourner Potatoes

the trimmed potatoes, a tourné knife, and the "discards"

So I just diced the rest of the potatoes and planned to par-boil and then saute them. A bit of a punt from the original plan, but it would work.

Well, it would have worked had I not let them boil a smidgen too long and they started to mash on their own when I went to saute them. So, out came the butter and milk and some garlic and mashed they were.

But mashed potatoes would look so… wrong beside the Marengo that I went for a Hail Mary: I turned on the oven, grabbed a pastry bag and humongous open star tip and piped out the potatoes Duchesse-style. 30 minutes in the oven and their little top edges were just starting to brown.

(Note: Duchesse Potatoes also include an egg yolk to be correct, but mine had olive oil from the botched sautéing and were fine.)