>> Sunday, February 28, 2010

Well, here it is. My first post!

I hadn't known exactly how or when to start; or that I would use this recipe as the very first. But somehow it seemed right. I had the kitchen to myself last Sunday afternoon. It was a grey, quiet day. Chris was out, braving the London cold, trying to find me a couple of heads of elusive radicchio; which had on first inspection seemed unacceptably bedraggled but, after an hour of searching for a more sprightly offerings, were determined 'better than nothing'. I had spent the last hour reading and sitting by our lounge windows, enjoying the last of the daylight and thinking I should get into the kitchen and start cooking.

Chris's sister and her husband were coming over for a Sunday night family dinner. It was cold and bleak outside and I felt like making something warming and filling. No-nonsense comfort food. The Wednesday Chef had posted a great dish called 'Florence Fabricant's Chicken Baked with Lentils' which ticked all the boxes and which I knew would be easy to prepare without too much fuss. This kind of still Sunday could only handle something simple and effortless to put together.

I began by finely slicing the celery into rows of half moons, chopping the onions, slicing the garlic. Chris arrived home with the radicchio which were surprisingly lovely, and while slightly tired-looking round the edges, introduced a welcome burst of colour into the kitchen.

After frying the lardons until golden and crumbly crisp, all the chopped vegetables were added to the cast-iron Fontignac cocotte my mother brought me over from France. (Which by the way is amazing; just as good and almost half the price of a Le Creuset! I say this even though I do love Le Creuset far more than is normal for a girl my age....)

A couple of spoons of cumin stirred in at the right moment. The shredded radicchio and minced sage next, and a good glug of red wine vinegar to deglaze the pan.

I have to admit that sage always confuses me somehow. I can't quite understand how such a pungent, musty smelling herb can add such an incredible depth of flavour to a dish without smothering all others. And yet, somehow, it does.

The stock, lentils and cooked lardons, followed by the browned chicken are then added to the dish, lid on and into the oven for an hour. Easy as pie.

When I read The Wednesday Chef/Luisa's comments about the chicken's delicate lace-like skin, I was slightly skeptical. How can chicken skin which has been fried in oil and then baked in bubbling stock ever turn out 'lace-like'? To be honest I was imagining something less delicate. But low and behold, I removed the lid and.... papery 'lace-like' skin! Light and translucent, that crinkled as it cooled. I know this sounds weird, but it's delicious and looks lovely. Chicken skin? Lovely? Trust me. Try it and you'll see for yourself.

The meal was declared a success. The chicken was tasty and meltingly soft of course, as chicken which has been covered and baked in an oven will always be. A salad of crisp leaves and finely sliced fennel dressed with a sweetened red-wine vinaigrette brightened up the table and contrasted nicely with the other earthy flavours.

But the real star of the show were the lentils. There were layers of flavour hidden within each forkful and the more you ate the better they tasted. These lentils are good - really good.

Make them when you're in need of warmth, want some comfort, are tired, cold, sad or just hungry for something tasty and satisfying.

I think this will become a regular favourite in our little house. Something to look forward to at the start of winter.

Chicken Baked with Lentils
(slightly adapted from Florence Fabricant and The Wednesday Chef)
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
200 grams pork lardons or a piece of thick bacon, sliced
8 pieces chicken thighs/legs, bone in and patted dry
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups finely chopped onions, about 2 medium onions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery, about 2 ribs
4-6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2-3 cups finely sliced radicchio, about 1 head, cored
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage
2 cups brown lentils
3 cups chicken stock, more if needed

1. Heat oil in a large ovenproof casserole. Add lardons or bacon and cook on medium until golden. Remove. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add, skin side down. Sear until golden on medium-high heat, working in two shifts if necessary. Remove from pan. Heat oven to 160ºC. Pour off all but 2-3 tablespoons fat from pan.

2. Add onions, celery and garlic, cook on medium until soft and translucent. Stir in cumin. Add radicchio, vinegar and sage; sauté briefly. Add lentils, stock and cooked lardons or bacon.

3. Return chicken to pan, bring to a simmer, cover and place in oven. Cook about an hour, until lentils are tender and most, but not all, of the liquid has been absorbed. Lentils should be thick and saucelike but not soupy. Add a little stock if needed. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed, then serve.



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