French Green Lentils with Chicken

Crispy chicken with lentils…..or is it lentils with crispy chicken?  I’m going to talk about making crispy skinned, yet moist chicken. To be honest though, I think the lentils are the star of the show.  Lentils get a bad rap.  We know they are rich with iron, protein, B vitamins and fiber, yet I would guess most people associate lentils with mushy or fibrous soups and bland texture.  Forget the brown lentils from the bulk bins and introduce yourself to French Green Lentils, or Lentilles du Puy.

Lentils from Puy are grown in the Auvergne region of France, in volcanic soils. This contributes to their nutty flavor and mineral taste.  The arid local climate is also responsible for the low starch content - a key reason lentilles du Puy stay nutty and chewy as opposed to getting gummy and mushy like many cooked legumes.  They may sound exotic, but are actually easy to find….if your local grocer doesn’t have them they can easily be found on Amazon for a very reasonable price.

Lentils can be delicious on their own, but they are very flexible. You can dress them up with vinaigrette or with some vegetables as I’ve done here.  They also make an outstanding side dish with a protein for a meal.  You can serve them with grilled summer vegetables, grilled garlic sausage as they do in French Bistros, or my favorite way, under a crisp skinned piece of chicken or fish.

OK, back to the chicken. To make crisp skinned chicken, there are a few simple tricks. First, you need the chicken to be dry – we’ll do this by salting and air drying the chicken in the refrigerator.  The salt helps to dehydrate the skin, as well as season the meat.  The other trick comes from the French method of cooking crispy skinned duck breasts – start the meat skin side down in a cold pan.  This has the effect of cooking the skin first, and reduces the tendency for the meat to dry out.  This is particularly useful with chicken breasts.  Chicken thighs tend to retain more moisture, as they are fattier, but the technique works well for both.

With a crispy skin the chicken pairs well with the lentils. I added a little herb sauce, some asparagus, onions, and potatoes to round out the dish.

 

For the Lentils

1 ¼ cup French green lentils (Lentilles du Puy)

2 oz. Slab bacon

1 medium onion, peeled and cut crosswise 2/3rd’ through, leaving stem intact

1 carrot cut in four pieces

1 bay leaf

A few sprigs of thyme

Carrot, fennel or other root vegetables, cut to small dice

Chicken stock

 

For the Chicken

Bone in breasts, thighs or complete legs from one roaster chicken

A few sprigs of thyme

1 teaspoon butter

2 teaspoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the Lentils

1.     Rinse lentils and remove any debris;

2.    In a heavy bottomed saucepan, cook slab bacon a few minutes to render some fat;

3.    Add onion, carrot, bay leaf, thyme and lentils;

4.    Add stock to cover lentils by at least 2 inches and simmer 25 minutes or until lentils are tender;

5.    Drain and discard bacon, onion, carrot and herbs;

6.    Heat olive oil in a separate skillet, and sauté the finely diced carrot and fennel until tender; season with salt and pepper;

7.    Toss warm lentils with a few spoonfuls of chicken stock, a splash of olive oil, and the sautéed vegetables; adjust seasoning as necessary.

 

For the Chicken

1.     Start by patting the chicken dry with paper towels, and then lightly salt each piece with coarse sea salt or kosher salt.  Place them on a wire rack uncovered in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably two.

2.    Wipe the bottom of a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet with the butter and drizzle in the olive oil.  Add the thyme sprigs.  Pre heat an oven to 375F

3.    Season the chicken pieces with pepper only (you’ve already used salt) and place in the skillet skin side down.  Avoid overcrowding – if you’re making a large recipe use two skillets or work in two batches.

4.    Place the skillet over medium heat and cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes, until the skin starts to brown.  As fat accumulates in the pan, tip the pan to one side with the thyme and use a spoon to baste the chicken.

5.    After about 12 – 15 minutes, or when the skin is well browned, turn the pieces over and place the skillet in the oven.  Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 155 - 160F.

6.    Remove from the skillet, let rest for 5 minutes and serve as illustrated above, with lentils and vegetables.