Inside a Franglish Pantry: Lentils

Duck breasts recipe

I’m going to start on a slight tangent but yesterday was Valentine’s Day and we had lentils for dinner. That’s right, lentils. Hardly the romantic food of love, you might think, especially when Facebook was exploding with soppy declarations of luuurve and pictures of flowers and chocolate had taken over the newsfeed. Unfortunately, my day started so badly that I didn’t notice there were flowers on the dining room table. My only excuse is that it was 4.30 am at the time and I was making a desperate dash for the toilet. It’s times like these that only having a downstairs bathroom is a real PITA!

When I was finally ready to face the world around 9 am, I did notice all the lovely things Badgerman had left behind and with my stomach finally settled, the Lindt chocolate with strawberry bits did much to improve my mood. It did however take until the afternoon for me to feel ready to think about the lovely dinner I had planned to cook. Last week, we decided not to go out for Valentine’s Day and had a rummage through our more festive recipes for something suitably yummy to indulge in. To my immense surprise, Badgerman turned down the lamb curry I would have placed bets on being top of his list in favour of a duck with lentils extravaganza.

Now onto the subject of this post: lentils. I originally had a different title for this post, it was going to be ‘Hateful Foods from my childhood: Lentils’. I used to hate lentils. I still sort of don’t like them. Like quinoa, bulgur wheat and whatever other pulse you can think of, it’s all been meh to me from the start. I can never look forward to them. I don’t know what child looks forward to lentils ever, but they’re particularly unforgiving, especially when you’ve been expecting couscous instead. Can you tell I’m slightly bitter about this?

Since becoming an adult and holding all the power when it comes to what goes into my mouth, I have stayed very clear off them until a few years ago. I watched a food programme where chef Valentine Warner demonstrated a Duck with Lentils recipe and managed not only to make it look edible but also incredibly appealing. I thought to myself that it might be time to give my taste buds another go at them – in the name of science of course – so I made the dish and to my immense surprise, it was delicious, and was still delicious when I made it another time, so it was not a fluke. Whilst I am not going to ever reach punching the air ‘yeah lentils!’ levels of excitement, I can now feel good about giving my body an occasional health surge, and that’s nothing to sniff at.

Pink but not quacking

Pink but not quacking

The recipe is officially called Wild duck breasts with Puy lentils, chanterelle mushrooms and bacon and can be found straight off the BBC food website but as I’m nice and all, I’m also going to copy it below and add my own comments. I would rate it as easy and can vouch for the cooking time too, which is a rare thing! For the two of us, I approximately halved the required ingredients, which worked fine.

Less than 30 mins preparation time / 30 mins to 1 hour cooking time / Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 175g/6oz Puy lentils (that is, the dark ones, whether or not it specifies ‘Puy’, which indicates the region of France these lentils originate from, just don’t use orange or yellow lentils)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 rashers smoked streaky bacon, rind removed, finely chopped
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped (at a push, use a small onion instead, but it won’t be quite as nice)
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 2 large handfuls fresh chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean
  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • dash red wine vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • small handful fresh parsley, chopped
For the duck
  • 4 wild duck breasts
  • salt
  • knob of butter

Preparation method

  1. Place the lentils and the bay leaves into a pan and cover with cold water. Bring them to the boil, then drain. Refill the pan with cold water to just above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until tender. Add more water if the level falls below the lentils.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until just beginning to colour.
  3. Add the shallots, carrots, garlic and celery and fry until the vegetables are soft and the shallots are golden-brown.
  4. Add the chanterelles and cook for one minute. On the subject of Chanterelle mushrooms, I don’t know about anyone else in England but unless you live somewhere where the farmers’ market is particularly awesome (and I want to know where that is!), you simply won’t find them. It might be a bit easier in France, especially in mushroom season i.e. September/October but even then, I’m not sure. Your alternative options are therefore as follows: dried wild mushrooms, which you leave in a bowl of boiling water for about 30 minutes before using, or good old chestnut mushrooms or any other fresh ones you picked up from the shops – about 6 of them will do.
  5. Drain the cooked lentils, then return to the pan they were cooked in. Add the bacon and mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Season, to taste, with sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Add a dash of red wine vinegar and cook over a low heat for five minutes. I have discovered through bitter experience that the ‘dash’ thing is too vague for me and that too much red wine vinegar will ruin the dish. However don’t use it and you will be seriously missing out. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is about it but it lifts the flavour to a whole new level. For 2 people, I used one tablespoon and found it juuuuust right; for 4, it’s safe to say two tablespoons should do. 
  7. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and stir in the chopped parsley.
  8. For the wild duck, using a sharp knife, finely score the skin of duck breasts in parallel lines, then season well with salt. If you are particular about your duck and will notice whether or not it is wild, by all means, get it from your butcher. I bought Gressingham breasts for £8.25 from Tesco and they were very tasty.
  9. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the duck breasts skin-side down and place a small plate on top so the breasts stay flat and cook evenly. Cook for 5-6 minutes, or until golden-brown, then turn the duck breasts over and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, or until cooked to your liking. Remove from the pan and leave to rest for five minutes. As for beef, how you like it cooked is really up to you. I personally added a couple of minutes to the cooking time. However I would add my twopence and say that if you don’t like pink meat, you probably shouldn’t be eating duck. This is particularly true of duck breasts; they basically lose all deliciousness if they get brown all the way through. Even a tiny bit of pink is better than no pink at all.
  10. To serve, spoon equal portions of the lentils onto four plates. Slice each duck breast and arrange over each portion of lentils.

Enjoy!

Inside a franglish pantry

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