School is back and life is s.l.o.w.l.y returning to what passes as normal in our house. Our Little Professor (almost 6) is busy bringing home incredibly fascinating bits of information he has picked up during the day and asking to have percentages explained to him. He is not even 6.
So much is learned in those early years and those things will stick with us for life. Same with our food preferences, wouldn’t you say? Sure we can develop preferences later in life but I believe we always fall back to our first loves.
From birth until 14 I lived in rural Germany. In hindsight, I was very lucky to have been raised in an environment where fresh local produce was the norm. My father was a plumber, he did a lot of jobs for people in the village which were paid in kind. This meant that it was not unusual on a Saturday morning to receive a boot load of asparagus, or cucumbers, or beans, or …well you get the idea. If such bounty arrived it was all hands on deck for us kids too to form a production line of peeling, slicing, washing, marinating – whatever method of preparation was required on the day. We had a large cellar where there were rows upon rows of jars of peaches, cucumbers, pears, pickles, jams, juices, sauces and more – right next to the rather large freezer. There were several generations in our home as my maternal great grandparents lived in the same house. This meant recipes and techniques were old school.
To this day I have this picture in my head, a memory, of an afternoon in the garden, sitting with my father peeling asparagus. To me, the PERFECT asparagus dish is a small mountain of asparagus freshly cooked in lightly salted water, drained….plopped on a plate with paper thin BLack Forest smoked ham (Schwarzwälder Schinken) and Dad’s homemade hollandaise. That’s it, nothing else. Oh, did I mention that asparagus has to be WHITE? Thick, white and sweet and not stringy.
Of course it wasn’t just fruit and vegetables making their way to us, being a good German family with hearty appetites there was plenty of meat to go around as well. Mum had a deal with the local ranger and in autumn there was usually 1/2 a deer in the freezer. Mum & Dad helped out on slaughter day at local farmers’ , a day where everyone chipped in, and from there too came 1/2 pig, plenty of beef, chickens and home made smallgoods. No matter where we lived, my mother always had a brilliant relationship with the village butcher.
I still love German food a lot, although it is often too rich for the hot Queensland climate. One of the many things I did learn however was that food doesn’t need to be fussy and complicated, in fact the simpler the better the flavour and that has followed me regardless of the cuisine I am trying to recreate.
So here we have Chicken & Lentils – very French, very simple, very cheap, very tasty.
1 small chicken halved, back bone removed
1 cup lentils, preferably French
3 cups water
4 baby leeks
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and sliced on a diagonal
1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup water
1/2 cup white wine
For the rub:
1/4 cup coarse sea salt
15 juniper berries, coarsely chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- In a bowl mix all the rub ingredients.
- Place chicken halves non-reactive pan (go for glass or ceramic if you can).
- Sprinkle the salt mix both sides of the chicken, then massage it into the skin.
- Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours or longer. I think I did 5.
- Preheat oven to 180º C (350ºF) .
- Add lentils to 3 cups of water bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
- While the lentils are cooking, rinse the chicken REALLY well and pat it dry.
- Drain the lentils and place in the bottom of an overproof dish.
- Lay out leeks and carrots on top of the lentils.
- Combine the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Sprinkle this over the lentils and vegetables.
- Place chicken halves on top of the vegetables and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme.
- Carefully pour water and the wine around the chicken.
- Place baking dish in oven and roast for about 1 hour or until chicken is cooked and golden.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
The juniper berries remind me of many German meals, or the odd gin 🙂 and give the chicken a fabulously subtle flavour. The salt rub is a way of dry brining but you must make sure you rinse it REALLY well, to not have an overly salty chook in the end.
I personally believe that lentils benefit greatly from a tiny drizzle of vinegar and I have recently found out that there are many other cultures that do the same. I chose apple cider vinegar, my KnightInShiningArmour chose malt vinegar, PixieBoy didnt have any and Little Professor decided that at this stage his life is quite complete without eating lentils *sigh*
Of course you can use chicken pieces instead of halves, double the lentils, add celery, bay leaf, a shot of cognac, maybe a smidge of bacon too. Use this as your base recipe, then let your personal taste guide you to come up with a family favourite.
It tasted delicious, is very easy to make and once again, a super cheap dish too.
If you are left with a shedload of lentils, here is a nifty storage idea I found on Pinterest