The Musette: petit salé aux lentilles

Petit Salé aux Lentilles is traditional French cooking, the sort you’ll find in French homes the length and breadth of the country. The meat and lentils are cooked, together with carrots, onions, celery and a generous bouquet garni of herbs, then served in a soup plate with the cooking liquid.

Petit salé means lightly salted so if you can get hold of salt pork, use it, otherwise any cut of pork and/or sausages will be just fine. The pork is traditionally placed in cold water with aromatics, usually onion, a couple of garlic cloves, carrot, some peppercorns, a handful of bay leaves and a clove or two. The whole lot is then brought to a light simmer before the lentils are added. However, I think my twist on the classic recipe is more flavourful.

If like me you are using salted pork, soak it in water for at least 7 hours, preferably overnight, regularly changing the soaking water.

Ingredients (serves 3 hungry cyclists)

  • 500g (1lb) pork belly, soaked overnight
  • 2 Montbeliard sausages
  • 250g (9oz) green lentils
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium onion,peeled and diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste

Options to serve:-

  • 1 blood sausage, cooked and crumbled with handful of breadcrumbs
  • handful toasted, skinned hazelnuts
  • freshly chopped parsley

Method

1. Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, carrot and celery with a pinch of sea salt. Cook on medium heat until the onion is translucent (15-20 minutes).

2. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute before adding the herbs and lentils and cooking for another five minutes.

3. Add vegetable or chicken stock, bring to boil and then lower heat to a simmer. The lentils should take approx. 30 minutes to cook. After 15 minutes, add the sausages and, if necessary, more hot filtered water to ensure the lentils don’t boil dry.

4. Meanwhile, heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/325°F fan) remove pork belly from soaking water and pat dry. Score skin and rub with olive oil, scatter some (optional) fennel pollen over pork flesh and pop into oven for 90 minutes. I don’t like to “boil” the pork as it’s quite a fatty cut. This way the fat melts leaving just the juicy, succulent meat and crispy crackling.

5. Once the pork belly is cooked, remove crackling and chop pork into bite sized chunks. Add to lentils. Remove sausages and slice on the diagonal, return to lentils. Remove bay leaves and thyme stalks. The lentils should be soft and there should be very little liquid in the pan.

6. Add mustard and vinegar, stirring well to incorporate. Season to taste. Serve in soup bowls decorated with piece of crackling, and one or all of freshly chopped parsley, chopped hazelnuts, crispy black pudding crumbs and a further splash of vinegar.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you’re in a rush, you could use tinned lentils which will reduce cooking time by 30 minutes.

2. I use ordinary green lentils rather than Puy as I want some of them to meld into the sauce.

3. I often make this dish with the remains of roasted pork belly rather than salted pork belly but always add sausages and occasionally small new potatoes to make the dish go further.

4. Because the dish, apart from the crackling is soft, i like to add a bit more crunch with toasted, chopped hazelnuts, and/or sausage crumb.

5. I make the blood sausage crumb by skinning a blood sausage and cooking it on a low heat with a handful of home-made breadcrumbs. I find it adds a nice crunch and piquancy. You need smooth black sausage similar to French boudin noir, not Spanish morcilla or British black pudding. If you can’t find these, a nice Toulouse meaty sausage would probably suffice.

4. The dish benefits from reheating, happily resting in the fridge for a couple of days. Equally, the dish can be frozen.