We love Diana Henry’s writing. Last spring we devoured (quite literally) her book on eating healthily without skimping on flavour. Many of those ideas have now become part of our own repertoire. One year on and the Sunday Telegraph columnist has turned her attention to chicken with A Bird In The Hand. Like Henry we cook chicken at least once a week – and numerous other meals always follow – a chicken noodle soup from the stock, a risotto, a quick lunch of the ripped flesh stuffed into some really good fresh bread etc etc. But even if you are devoted to chicken you can still fall into the trap of doing the same old things. So this book is fabulously useful. There’s a chapter of please-anyone supper recipes with spins on classics (saltimbocca, chicken with tarragon, schnitzel, chicken forestiere) as well as more novel ideas too. There are also chapters with more exotic spiced up chicken recipes which draw ideas from Africa and the Caribbean to India and the Far East and one with more sumptuous ideas for dinners or weekend roasts such as a perky paprika roast chicken with buttery caraway potatoes or a colourful roast chicken with pumpkin, black lentils and hazelnut picada as well as even more luxurious ways for a bird to raise its game – roasted with shavings of fresh black truffle for instance. Henry includes some essays with advice on methods – which, even if you cook a lot, are still illuminating. There are almost certainly going to be things we return to again and again – we can’t wait to try the chicken, leek and cider pie with a cheddar and hazlenut crumble or her retro chicken breasts with wild mushroom sauce and puy lentils and by chance we have the recipe just below.
chicken breasts with wild mushroom sauce and puy lentils
For years this was my ‘posh dinner party’ number. People used to want a sauce and a bit of cream. Times have changed, but this is still a lovely dish. You can make the sauce and lentils ahead of time and reheat them, which makes it convenient, too.
for the sauce
25g (scant 1oz) dried wild mushrooms
15g (.oz) unsalted butter
100g (3 1/2 oz) mushrooms, roughly chopped
350ml (12fl oz) well-flavoured chicken stock
125ml (4fl oz) double cream
salt and pepper
for the chicken
6 skin-on boneless chicken breasts (the best you can afford), each 150g (5 ½ oz)
20g (3/4 oz) unsalted butter
a splash of groundnut or rapeseed oil
for the lentils
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
300g (10 ½ oz) Puy or Umbrian lentils
450ml (16fl oz) chicken stock, more if needed (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
Start with the sauce, which you can make in advance if you want and reheat at the last minute.
Pour 75ml (2.fl oz) of boiling water over the dried mushrooms and leave to soak for 15 minutes.
Melt the butter and saute the other mushrooms until well coloured. Drain the wild mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquor, and chop any that are large. Add to the mushrooms in the pan and cook for another minute. Pour on the stock and soaking liquor and cook until the liquid has reduced by two-thirds. Add the cream and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste and season, you shouldn’t need any salt because of the reduced chicken stock.
Allow the chicken breasts to come to room temperature. For the lentils, heat the regular oil in a heavy-based pan and gently saute the onion, carrot and celery for 10 minutes. Add the lentils, stock and bay leaf and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20–25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked but still have a little bite. (Keep an eye on them as they turn mushy very quickly.) By the end of the cooking time the stock should have been absorbed (you may need a little more stock or water during cooking).
Gently stir in the vinegar, virgin oil and parsley, check for seasoning and cover to keep warm.
Heat the butter and oil for the chicken in a large frying pan. Season the chicken and put it in the pan, skin side down. Cook for two minutes on each side over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and cook for six or so minutes, turning, until cooked through but still moist.
Quickly reheat the sauce. Either leave the breasts whole or cut them, on a slight angle, into two or three pieces. Put some lentils into the centre of six warmed plates, put a chicken breast on top of each serving and spoon some of the sauce around. Serve immediately.
From A Bird in The Hand by Diana Henry, published by Mitchell Beazley, £20 (www.octopusbooks.co.uk)