Fabien’s cured/smoked ham with lentils

Fabien (Babu) is a soul brother who I met in my final year at uni when he started dating my housemate – a year later the three of us moved to Paris and had a ball in the world’s most beautiful city.

Fabien in his favourite place - the kitchen
Fabien in his favourite place – the kitchen

We lived in a duplex apartment in the Marais and while Nathalie found work relatively easily, it was tougher for us. During the down times, Babu and I used to wake late, watch music TV (the Spice Girls were everywhere) and went for monumental walks around the city. We used to share a sandwich américain – a full baguette filled with fries, steak hachés and topped with a light Dijon mustard mayonnaise – before looping back to the house, stopping for a beer and feigning ‘tough-day-job-searching’ faces for when Nathalie got home. We rarely fooled her.

The upside was I got to know Paris very well. The bedside I was poor.

Dinner duties usually fell to me and Babu – it was only fair – and this recipe for Petit salé aux lentilles (ham hock with lentils) pas a staple. It’s a one-pot dish that takes a few hours to prepare, costs very little to make and lasts forever.

Music to listen to while preparing this dish: ‘Aïcha’ by Khaled

Ingredients

  • 1kg cured ham joint – some people choose belly, knuckle is great (and traditional), I often smoked gammon joints as they are easy to get hold of quickly
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 large carrots cut in to batons
  • 2 sticks celery cut into batons
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 400g Puy lentils
  • 500ml light chicken stock (it really has to be light – especially on the salt content)

Method

  1. Put your joint in a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to boil. Simmer the joint for one hour, then drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Once cool, trim the joint of excess skin and fat and leave to one side.
  3. Gently heat a generous amount of olive oil in a pan and sweat down the onions and garlic. Be careful not to colour them, you just want them slightly translucent.
  4. Add the carrots and celery and gently fry off for a further five minutes.
  5. Add your lentils and fry with your veg for a good couple of minutes.
  6. Return the ham to the pan and top up with the stock and add your herbs.
  7. Simmer for between 30-40 minutes on a medium heat until your lentils are cooked. Check your water levels after 30 mins and top up if necessary.
  8. Once your lentils are cooked and have absorbed most of the liquid, discard the bay leaves and thyme twigs, remove the ham, shred it and return it back to the stew.

Serve with good Dijon mustard, crusty bread and a medium white wine.

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