My grandfather would have been 101 years old this week. This is his recipe, but this is my comfort food.
The smell and taste of chicken marengo immediately transports me to my grandparents table, the table where I spent most holidays and countless other evenings growing up. We always had dinner at that table, and I was usually tasked with setting the table, work that I relished. I still blame my obsession with cutlery and glassware on that table.
A visit to my grandparent’s house followed a predictable and comforting series of events. Pawpaw would meet us at the door, give each of us a big hug, and say ‘I’m real glad to see you baby’ in his old, booming Southern voice. Mamaw was waiting for us on the sofa, nursing a glass of red wine. The house would be filled with the rich, savory smells of whatever my grandfather had prepared for us. This was my home away from my house.
My grandfather took up cooking after he retired. I think cooking became his creative outlet. Making food was a scientific and artistic challenge that he could share with other people. At least that’s my take on it as I reflect back. Pawpaw was already retired by the time I was born, so I only knew him as someone who enjoyed being in the kitchen and pouring over cookbooks. He loved to eat, and he grew to love cooking for people.
Food is how our family shows love. My family gets excited about the next two meals of the day while eating breakfast. Food is conversation and fuel and community and joy and love. If you understand this, then you are my people.
I learned to cook after he passed away. I wish I’d been interested in the process before. I wish I’d sat down with him and asked him questions about his favorite recipes and meals. My saving grace is that he was as meticulous as he was passionate. He typed out his recipes on his typewriter, noting the date a dish was made and the changes he may have made to it each time. As I cook from a copy of his recipe page titled Chicken Marengo, I feel a little like he’s teaching me to cook one of my favorites.
Pawpaw relied on a couple of go-to recipes as our ‘welcome meal’ each time we came to visit, and they were all hearty and warming. The Julia Child’s inspired Chicken marengo recipe was one of them.
Chicken marengo is a hearty, but bright, simmered dish, full of mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic and white wine. I deviate a little from my grandfather’s rendition by browning the chicken, switching out the pearl onions for white onion, and trading white button mushrooms for more flavorful cremini mushrooms. The result is the same fragrant and saucy one pot chicken dish that’s perfect ‘served with steamed rice, green beans or broccoli, and a light red wine’, just like Pawpaw’s notes say.
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Chicken Marengo is a dish my grandfather used to make. It's a hearty and bright one-pot dish, full of mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic & white wine. It's sure to be a comfort favorite!
- 4 chicken thighs, bone-in & skin-on
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped
- 3/4 lb. cremini mushrooms, cleaned & sliced thin
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 14 oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes, with the juice
- 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Once the pan is hot, add the oil. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down and cook until the fat has rendered and the skin is golden, about six or so minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook for about 6 minutes on the other side. Remove the partially cooked chicken to a plate while you build your sauce.
Toss the onions and mushrooms into the hot pan and cook until browned, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine and chicken broth and use a wooden spoon to scrap up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and their juices, breaking them up roughly with a wooden spoon. Toss in the garlic cloves and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Nestle the chicken thighs (skin-up) in the sauce. Cook on a simmer until the thighs are done and tender (internal temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sprinkle a little parsley over the top and serve with the grain of your choice. I prefer white rice because it soaks up all the yummy juices!