I’m not even going to pretend that this is healthy, although honestly, it could be worse. Once you try it, you won’t care in the slightest. Picnics, family BBQs, feeding whosoever is in your bubble, or dropping it off to those with whom you cannot break bread at present. This is hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful legumes. I won’t say it’s uncomplicated either—it’s full of several little steps, which can be broken up and tackled in stages.
Why is this a salad, rather than a warm side dish? Mainly because I use a vinaigrette to dress the lentils. But instead of oil, duck fat is warmed up and used along with the reduced pan juices. I got this idea from the brilliant Brad Long, chef and owner of Café Belong and Belong Catering, and sometimes star of the Food Network smash hit Restaurant Makeover. His Brown Butter Vinaigrette, born out of necessity, provided me with the understanding that different types of fat can stand in for oil in a salad dressing. Duck fat is delectable in any recipe. Here it is paired with the vinegar from my Smoky Onion Pickles, and the pickled onions, paired with a sweet mustard. Fresh tarragon makes this feel like the most French thing you’ll eat all summer, and well into the fall.
I made use of pre-made duck confit, but roast duck legs would work perfectly here. As long as the skin is crisped and thrown in with the shredded meat, you should have plenty of hearty flavour to boost your lentils, with or without pan juices.
The other cool trick I learned this week is that sous vide lentils are their own thing entirely. I usually put puy lentils in the pressure cooker, not caring if some become mushy. Preferring it in fact, for lentil and potato soup. I’ve tried cooking them carefully on the stovetop to preserve them in distinct and unbroken form, only to find that the age of the lentils can create wildly varying results. And they require an exceedingly watchful eye. Sous vide lentils, on the other hand, can be left for hours without any fear of disintegration, and leaving you free to turn your attention to other matters. You can cook them in a Ziplock bag, but I cooked them in mason jars.
This salad can be easily doubled for a crowd. Makes a nice side dish or a main with a wholegrain sourdough and an endive salad.
- Sous vide device (optional)
- 1 cup puy or beluga lentils
- 2 ½ cups water
- 2-4 fresh bay leaves
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 whole leg of duck confit (or 2 roast duck legs)
- 1 cup tarragon, washed and chopped
- 1 cup fresh parsley
- ½ cup smoky onion pickles
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp salted capers
- ½ cup vinegar (from the onion pickles, or white wine or champagne vinegar)
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ cup duck fat, warmed
- ¼ cup pan juices
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 pats duck fois gras (optional)
- Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve, then place them in jars or bags with water, bay leaves and salt. Set sous vide devise to 190ºF (87ºC) and cook for 90 minutes, or up to 3 hours. Open and let cool. Drain and set aside.
- Alternatively, bring lentils, salt, bay leaves to a boil in 4 cups of water, then simmer until tender, 25-30 minutes.
- Place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 350ºF for 12-15 minutes. Let cool. Rub off most of the skins, then chop roughly with a knife or pulse in a food processor until roughly ground. Set aside.
- Remove the duck from its bag, pouring the juices into a small pan. Bring juices to a boil, then reduce over medium heat until you have about ¼ cup.
- Reheat duck in a cast iron frying pan, browning and crisping the skin. Remove the skin and crisp it on all sides. Melt any fat under the skin. Reserve ½ cup of the fat.
- Remove duck to a cutting board, let cool slightly. Shred with hands.
- Chop onion pickles (use fresh mild onions or shallots if you don’t have the onion pickles) into a fine mince. Chop tarragon and parsley, then throw all three into a bowl with the lentils.
- Make the vinaigrette: put the vinegar, garlic cloves, capers, mustard, salt and pepper together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pour over the lentils, onions and herbs. Warm up the duck fat in the pan. Toss together thoroughly.
- Add half of the hazelnuts and the duck meat and skin, and chopped fois gras, if using, and toss again. Top with remaining hazelnuts and a few sprigs of tarragon.