It’s been a great day today for a number of reasons – not the least of which was that I finally saw the sun and a little blue sky!  (I was beginning to have my doubts on whether either of them were still there).

But, with the clear skies has come a drop in the mercury, so hardy food is the order of the day.  And this dish seems to borrow from the south of France, with the lemons and lentils giving you a flavor of Provence, giving you filling food with the flavor of the sun.  Because you need to cook the lentils, this isn’t going to be one of those from-chopping-board-to-pot-to-bowl-in-30-minutes dish.  In fact, if you can give it at least an hour for a nice, long, slow simmer you will be well-rewarded.

The dish, itself, comes from Nigella’s new book – but I’ve tweaked it a bit here and there.  The biggest difference is that she poaches the chicken in the lentil mixture while I prefer to saute.  I gotta be honest – I’m not a big fan of poached chicken unless it’s in something like chicken salad and you don’t have to see how pale and wan and anemic it looks.  To me, a lovely golden sauteed chicken breast is just prettier and has a little more flavor.  But, if you want to reduce the number of pans to wash, then feel free to lay the chicken on top of the lentil mixture when you add the chicken broth, cover and cook as described.

Oh, and one last word – do use Puy lentils.  I made the mistake one time of thinking that I could substitute red lentils for Puy in a recipe — where Puy lentils soften but retain their structural integrity, red lentils fall apart and turn to mush.  I love using red lentils in stews for just that reason, but not in this dish.

Chicken with Puy Lentils

  • garlic oil
  • 1/4 lb smokey bacon, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium leeks, white and light green part, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 heaping Tbsp English or Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup Puy lentils
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 breasts chicken
  • additional parsley for garnish

In a wide pot with a lid (or, if you have a good Dutch oven, that would work, too), heat a drizzle of garlic oil over medium heat then add the bacon and cook until done and a bit crispy.  If a lot of fat is rendered, drain and leave a tablespoon or two, then add the carrots and leeks to the bacon and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes, until they start to soften.  Add the parsley, mint, zest, mustard and lentils and stir well, cooking for a minute or two before adding the broth, raise the heat and bring to a boil before lowering the heat and simmering about an hour-ish or so.  When the broth has been about half-absorbed, taste for seasoning, stirring in the salt and pepper, then covering until absorbed. 

As I mentioned, where Nigella poaches her chicken in the broth, I saute it separately.  When you serve, plate up the lentils and top with the chicken breast, a little chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon.

... gorgeous simmering pot of Puy lentils ...