Duck Breast with Puy Lentils, Mushrooms and Bacon

duck lentils recipeI’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

This duck 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.

Duck Recipe: 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!

French English pantry recipes

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Inside a Franglish Pantry: Lardons

Inside a franglish pantry

I was cooking a Boeuf Bourguignon for Sunday lunch last week and the smell of lardons frying in the pan reminded me how much of a staple item it is in France and how frequently I use them in recipes.

Lardons are basically diced smoked bacon, which you can buy in most if not all supermarkets already prepared.

In most cookery programmes I have watched in recent years, chefs will often use the more expensive version of the humble lardon in their recipes, Pancetta. It may make any old recipe sound posh but my view is it doesn’t actually make that much difference which type you use.  I’m not a chef and not quite that precious about my bacon, and it shows in my personal preference, which goes to Lidl’s beech smoked rindless bacon lardons.  They are wonderfully fragrant and are sold in 2 packs of 125g each, making it really easy to avoid wastage, as you can just freeze one of the packs for later use. If you really can’t find lardons anywhere but have access to bacon, you can make your own using smoked streaky bacon. What is most important is that there is a decent amount of fat on them.

Français : Lardons ( porc )
Lardons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said I use lardons a lot, especially in slow-cooked stews like the Boeuf Bourguignon, the humble chicken stew, various pasta dishes (it’s a main ingredient of a Carbonara sauce), on pizza, mixed in with sautéed potatoes (or say to improve Sunday evening leftover feast of bubble and squeak).

For a fantastic video tutorial of how to make Boeuf Bourguignon, I cannot recommend enough the wonderful work of Becoming Madame, who uses a Julia Child recipe. It’s very close to the recipe I used, although mine didn’t require carrots and added mushrooms towards the end.

My Boeuf Bourguignon recipe comes the completely non-chefy ‘2000 recettes de la cuisine française (de la gastronomie française aux spécialités régionales)‘.

The Ingredients:

1 kg of beef (I would recommend a mixture of lean and fatty pieces for tastier results), cut into chunks

100 g lardons

1 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

250 g chestnut mushrooms

30 g plain flour

50 g vegetable oil

300 ml water

300 ml red wine (from Burgundy for the authentic taste)

1 bouquet garni (I use shop-bought ones, but you can make your own by tying a sprig of thyme, parsley and a bay leaf together)

salt + pepper

The Technique:

1. In a large heavy-based pan (like a Le Creuset dish), fry the onion and the lardons in the oil. When they start to brown, remove from the pan and set aside.

2. In their stead, turn the pan to a high heat and brown the beef chunks on all sides. You can use two wooden spoons to turn the meat. Don’t put all the meat in the pan in one go, it will be quite difficult to turn and brown properly. Instead, properly brown the meat a few bits at a time.

3. Once the meat is brown, set aside with the onion and lardons.

4. In the leftover oil, throw the flour in one go and turn quickly to make an homogeneous paste. Cook for a minute, then add the water and the wine and bring to the boil, stirring constantly to avoid making lumps.

5. Put the meat, onion and lardons back in the pan with the bouquet garni, garlic, salt and pepper. If you are going to add carrots, this is the time to put them in. Cover the pan with its lid and leave to cook slowly on a low heat for three hours. Add the mushrooms, whole or cut into chunks, 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

6. Serve with new potatoes and green beans.

The Price of Lardons

Available widely in the UK e.g. Tesco’s 200g smoked lardons are £1.95 (their Finest range has some for £3.10 !!!)

In France, places like Auchan do 180g for around 2.28 €. I say ‘around’ because there is quite a lot of choice between smoked/unsmoked, pork/duck, supermarket’s own/big make like Herta, as you would expect.

Enjoy!

Inside a Franglish Pantry: my love affair with sherry

In the first installment of my new topic Inside a Franglish Pantry, I want to tell you how I fell in love with sherry. That’s right, the Spanish alcoholic beverage also known as xérès. It’s a big fail in the Franglish department, but it is in my pantry and is so wonderful it now features in our dinners on a weekly basis, so there.

The History

Before 2006, I knew nothing about sherry apart from a strange idea in my head that it was one of those old-fashioned drinks favoured by old ladies as an after dinner treat. A bit like port, which I always think is only drunk by the fireside by posh pipe-smoking old men. Turns out I was wrong and if used appropriately, it turns a standard dish into a culinary delight.

It all started when I went to Paris on a romantic weekend away with my long-distance boyfriend of two months. Because we didn’t live anywhere near each other, we only saw each other at the weekend and it didn’t really feel like a relationship. To try to get a better sense of each other (I was going to say to get a better feel, but it sounded a bit wrong), we decided to go to Paris for a couple of days. One of the first ‘defining’ moments of our budding relationship was a wonderful Parisian lunch of steak and fries we had in a café near the Ile de la Cité. Whilst it was simple and tasty in and of itself, the highlight was the blue cheese sauce it was served with, which is the best I have ever tasted and one we still talk about to this day (yes, we are a bit obsessed by food, and as you can guess the trip was a great success and didn’t scare us off each other, since we’re still together now!).

I’ve since tried to recreate the blue cheese sauce on a number of occasions with varying degrees of success and the first recipe I followed required sherry. The rest is history.

What I do with it

I don’t make the cheese sauce often at all as it is much too rich for day-to-day cooking but I have found another use for the sherry. It is absolutely fantastic with fried onions, enhancing their natural flavour without overpowering them and filling the kitchen with the most tantalising smell, as if fried onions needed any help in the aroma department. All you need to do is start frying your chopped onions on a low heat. Once they are slightly translucent and starting to soften, sprinkle a bit of sugar, add a pinch of salt and a generous splash of sherry, mix well and continue to cook until the onions turn a bit sticky. I tend to use the final product with steak or incorporated in mash potato. It’s simple and delicious.

In terms of what type of sherry to buy, I must confess I haven’t gone very far in my investigations. I tend to buy the medium dry Amontillado as per the blue cheese recipe and I haven’t actually tasted any other kind so I can’t tell you anything else about it!

One thing vaguely negative sherry has done to my life is make fried onions seem a bit boring without it but on the whole it’s a situation I found I could live with.

Now, I am going to share a simple recipe for Potato Salad with you; too simple maybe but I have made this a couple of times and have had surprising reactions to it. You would think I had added a magical ingredient for the rave reviews I got for it.

Sherry – it’s not just for old ladies

Potato Salad with a Twist

To make this salad you will need:

  • New potatoes (or any other non-floury potato i.e. NOT Maris Piper!);
  • a few shallots, chopped;
  • Fresh or dry parsley;
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper
  • A knob of butter
  • SHERRY!!!!!

Boil the potatoes (leaving the skin on). Once cooked, leave to cool down.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, heat vegetable oil with a knob of butter and fry the shallots on a fairly low heat until they start to soften but aren’t yet brown. Add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of sherry (as much as you want depending on how pissed you want your guests to be I guess, but I’d recommend not so much that the shallots are swimming in it), mix well and cook until it has reduced and the shallots are a bit sticky. Put aside to cool.

Once the potatoes have cooled, cut them into chunks and mix them with the shallots in a large bowl. Add a handful of freshly chopped parsley and a generous amount of mayonnaise to taste and mix well until the potatoes are well coated.

Keep the bowl in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Bon appétit!

Potato Salad with sherry shallots

French English pantry recipesIn the first installment of my new topic Inside a Franglish Pantry, I want to tell you how I fell in love with sherry. That’s right, the Spanish alcoholic beverage also known as xérès. It’s a big fail in the Franglish department, but it is in my pantry and is so wonderful it now features in our dinners on a weekly basis. I have a potato salad recipe to show for it below.

The History

Before 2006, I knew nothing about sherry apart from a strange idea in my head that it was one of those old-fashioned drinks favoured by old ladies as an after dinner treat. A bit like port, which I always think is only drunk by the fireside by posh pipe-smoking old men. Turns out I was wrong and if used appropriately, it turns a standard dish into a culinary delight.

It all started when I went to Paris on a romantic weekend away with my long-distance boyfriend of two months. Because we didn’t live anywhere near each other, we only saw each other at the weekend and it didn’t really feel like a relationship. To try to get a better sense of each other (I was going to say to get a better feel, but it sounded a bit wrong), we decided to go to Paris for a couple of days. One of the first ‘defining’ moments of our budding relationship was a wonderful Parisian lunch of steak and fries we had in a café near the Ile de la Cité. Whilst it was simple and tasty in and of itself, the highlight was the blue cheese sauce it was served with, which is the best I have ever tasted and one we still talk about to this day (yes, we are a bit obsessed by food, and as you can guess the trip was a great success and didn’t scare us off each other, since we’re still together now!).

I’ve since tried to recreate the blue cheese sauce on a number of occasions with varying degrees of success and the first recipe I followed required sherry. The rest is history.

What I do with it

I don’t make the cheese sauce often at all as it is much too rich for day-to-day cooking but I have found another use for the sherry. It is absolutely fantastic with fried onions, enhancing their natural flavour without overpowering them and filling the kitchen with the most tantalising smell, as if fried onions needed any help in the aroma department. All you need to do is start frying your chopped onions on a low heat. Once they are slightly translucent and starting to soften, sprinkle a bit of sugar, add a pinch of salt and a generous splash of sherry, mix well and continue to cook until the onions turn a bit sticky. I tend to use the final product with steak or incorporated in mash potato. It’s simple and delicious.

In terms of what type of sherry to buy, I must confess I haven’t gone very far in my investigations. I tend to buy the medium dry Amontillado as per the blue cheese recipe and I haven’t actually tasted any other kind so I can’t tell you anything else about it!

One thing vaguely negative sherry has done to my life is make fried onions seem a bit boring without it but on the whole it’s a situation I found I could live with.

Now, I am going to share a simple Potato Salad recipe with you; too simple maybe but I have made this a couple of times and have had surprising reactions to it. You would think I had added a magical ingredient for the rave reviews I got for it.

sherry xeres bottle
Sherry – it’s not just for old ladies

Potato Salad Recipe with a Twist

To make this salad you will need:

  • New potatoes (or any other non-floury potato i.e. NOT Maris Piper!);
  • a few shallots, chopped;
  • Fresh or dry parsley;
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper
  • A knob of butter
  • SHERRY!!!!!

Boil the potatoes (leaving the skin on). Once cooked, leave to cool down.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, heat vegetable oil with a knob of butter and fry the shallots on a fairly low heat until they start to soften but aren’t yet brown. Add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of sherry (as much as you want depending on how pissed you want your guests to be I guess, but I’d recommend not so much that the shallots are swimming in it), mix well and cook until it has reduced and the shallots are a bit sticky. Put aside to cool.

Once the potatoes have cooled, cut them into chunks and mix them with the shallots in a large bowl. Add a handful of freshly chopped parsley and a generous amount of mayonnaise to taste and mix well until the potatoes are well coated.

Keep the bowl in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Bon appétit!

Inside a Franglish Pantry

Over the last few months, it has become apparent that a lot of people who visit my blog are most interested by my food posts. I don’t blame you, it’s one of my favourite subjects too!  Mostly I have just been posting random thoughts and recipes but since coming back from my summer holidays to France, I’ve been toying with the idea of focusing these posts a little bit more. With this in mind, I am introducing a new topic: Inside a Franglish Pantry.

A Franglish pantry, part-French, part-English, is a weird and wonderful thing. If you are French and have ever wondered what British stuff I could possibly have in there of culinary value, this is for you. If you are not French and you are curious to know more about the mysterious items French people keep in their fridge, it is for you too.

I’ll talk about my favourite staple store cupboard ingredients from both sides of the pond, recipe in tow. I will also tackle a big problem I have had trying to find equivalent products in supermarkets. I cannot count the number of times I have walked around a supermarket with a perplexed frown trying to find something and having no idea where I might find it, or indeed if it exists in the country I’m in. For example, you would think that finding cornflour in France would be easy, and you would be very wrong. It took me years to figure it out, and I feel it is only fair that I should share the ‘wisdom’ (I use the word Very loosely) I have gained over the years.

If you have any questions on this subject and you would like me to tell you what I know about it (which might be nothing, but don’t let that stop you, it certainly won’t stop me trying to respond), do not hesitate to email me!