A recent visit to the North Norfolk Coast led me to a small, but perfectly formed place called Cley. In Cley you can find the ideal balance of village to amenities: there is a beautiful potters and art gallery supplying everything from exquisitely glazed milk jugs to oven proof tagines, a people and dog friendly pub that serves a pretty good pint of ale (so I’ve been told!), an amazingly upmarket and comprehensive village shop that stocks everything from homemade brioche to vintage champagne (the owner is rumoured to be a distant cousin of the Queen, but that could just be hearsay) and finally, gem of gems, the most fabulous smoke house in the whole of Norfolk, the rather simply named: Cley Smokehouse.
Here, you can find the most delectable array of home smoked fare: anything from duck breast to olives receive their oak smoked attentions and that is before you start on the huge array of fish on offer. The shop itself gives off a woody, base note aroma that is no way unpleasant to the olfactory senses and I cannot manage to visit the place without leaving with a whole box of produce, wrapped in waxed paper and just begging to be turned in to a more complex affair: think smoked venison loin, sliced in to wedges and served with homemade redcurrant sauce, celeriac potato cakes and a good heap of fresh watercress, or a meal served straight from the smokehouse: a pint sized mug full of smoked prawns, ready to be pulled apart and served with a lemony sauce and a hunk of homemade rye bread.
On this particular occasion a couple of smoked chicken breasts made it back as part of my bundle of produce, as did a bunch of fresh chives from the local shop and in a flash I was thinking Smoked Chicken, Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad. I returned home and immediately set to cooking, I had the dish ready in my mind’s eye: dense, earthy puy lentils, caramel and crisp sweet potato croutons rich in tang with roasted garlic, the mellow and smoky flavour of the chicken, the crunch of pine nuts and the sharp taste of chives were just waiting to be combined in a light, lemony dressing. Nothing could have tasted nicer that evening than the colourful, melodious nature of that salad, shared with a close friend alongside a cool crisp glass of prosecco - I can recommend it almost as much as I can Cley Smokehouse.
SMOKED CHICKEN, SWEET POTATO AND LENTIL SALAD
250g Puy lentils
2 smoked chicken breasts
1 ½ lb or 1 very large sweet potato
50g pine nuts
3 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
A small bunch of chives
For the dressing
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp agave syrup
Preheat the oven to 220c (200c Fan). Peel the sweet potato and slice evenly down each side so that you make a rectangular block of potato – you can freeze the trimmed parts and use them in stocks or soups at a later date – chop the potato in to cubes exactly 1cm square. Slice the smoked chicken in to small chunks approximately 1½ cm in size. Finely chop the chives and peel and crush the garlic. Place the pine nuts on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until golden and toasted – approximately 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool down.
Place the lentils in to a large saucepan then pour over enough water to cover them by at least 3 inches. Salt the water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are just tender, adding more water if necessary. Meanwhile, combine the sweet potato, crushed garlic and olive oil in a roasting pan, season well and roast in the oven for 35 minutes or until soft on the inside, crisp on the outside and golden brown at the edges. Once cooked, remove from the oven and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix the ingredients for the dressing together, whisking with a fork to amalgamate the flavours. Once the lentils are cooked, drain and place in a serving bowl, pour over the dressing, stir well, season to taste and add more olive oil if you think it needs it. Tip in the roasted sweet potato, smoked chicken, pine nuts and chopped chives, toss carefully to mix together and serve while warm, ideally on a bed of watercress or leaf salad.