It doesn’t sound terribly exciting does it? I suspect that the mention of lentils is never going to set the culinary world on fire and have you racing to recreate this in the kitchen. I might add it’s a very brown sort of a dish. But cast those prejudices out the window - this is the kind of adaptable one-pot cooking that’s quite useful when you’ve got a couple of pieces of chicken and you want something soothing rather than the razzle dazzle.
So, chop up some base vegetables. By this I refer to the Italian concept of ‘soffrito’; think carrot, celery and onion. Perversely I used celery, leek and garlic instead but any and all combinations of the above will work. Sweat them in a casserole in some olive oil until softened. At this point, you may or may not want to add some pancetta or streaky bacon – it depends on whether you want the final dish to have that bacon hit of smokiness or something altogether gentler; anyway, it’s up to you.
Once the vegetables have softened, add (for two people) around 150g Puy lentils and a good handful of potatoes, chopped up. Again it doesn’t matter if you use waxy or floury potatoes, but the end result will differ quite a bit: waxy potatoes will keep their shape; floury ones will disintegrate into the sauce and make it a bit creamier. If you’re using floury potatoes, peel them before chopping. If waxy, simply halve or quarter them, according to size. Pour in about 500ml water or even chicken or vegetable stock (I might favour stock if there was no bacon), season and then place on top the chicken pieces you have and place the lid on.
If you’re using chicken thighs, this will take maybe 50 minutes to cook; if using chicken breast, check after 30 minutes. If you’ve left the skin on (and no reason why not, it’ll just add to the moistness of the chicken) don’t expect it to crisp up. In fact, if you’re averse to flobby skin, it’s best discarded once the chicken has cooked.
Once the chicken is cooked through and the lentils are tender, remove the chicken and set to one side. This is where you start punching up the flavour. Don’t get me wrong: check the seasoning and you might find that you like it just the way it is. But you might want to throw in a few things to freshen it up – try a good squeeze of lemon juice, a tbsp of English or Dijon mustard, a handful of chopped parsley or even chilli sauce if you really want the razzle dazzle. Stir in your chosen flavourings, pop the chicken into warmed deep dishes and ladle the soupy lentil stew around, finishing with perhaps more parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin. It ain’t pretty but it sure is good.