Walk into a mainstream supermarket and you might catch a whiff of savory rotisserie chicken. But before they became staples for harried workers looking for an easy dinner option, the roasted fowl had a famous — and quite powerful — fan in Napoleon Bonaparte, as NPR’s Nina Martyris reports.
Martyris writes that the general derived at least part of his military might from chickens, which “were constantly roasted on spits” at his home in the Tuileries Palace in Paris in case he got the munchies. He even took them to the battlefield, reports Martyris, who writes that “when he rode out of Cairo on Christmas Eve to survey the Suez isthmus, the only provisions he took were three roasted chickens wrapped in paper.”
Napoleon’s need for chicken forced his household staff to adapt. As his private secretary Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne wrote in his memoir, “Napoleon was irregular and fast in his meals, and ate fast and ill…The moment appetite was felt it was necessary that it should be satisfied, and his establishment was so arranged that in all places and at all hours, chicken, cutlets, and coffee might be forthcoming at a word.”
But Napoleon's demand for protein-rich provisions at all hours did not extend to his own men on the battlefield. Rather, writes Martyris, Napoleon’s army was often forced to forage for their own food. PBS notes that “soldiers learned by experience that marauding was often a more reliable source of food, horses and other provisions than the army’s supply system” — a hunger that may have driven them to become an even tougher, more hardened force.