Comforting Cod with puy lentils and pancetta

Cod is always a favourite fish, although Northerners prefer haddock in their fish and chips. This recipe can be a little long winded but you can choose to miss out a few steps. It is unusual because the vegetables and pancetta are sweat down, then put into a muslin cloth which is then steeped in the lentils as they cook. This imparts a wonderful rich deep flavour to the lentils. When the lentils are cooked the bag is removed and the aromatic juices squeezed into the lentils.

If time is short you can sweat all the vegetables the night before then just add the bag of cooked goodies the next day or at a pinch if you dice the vegetables small you can just add the lentils to the cooked vegetables. Either way this is a fabulous recipe that needs no more than some crusty bread to deliver a deeply comforting earthy dish.

Serves: 3 – 4 depending on appetite
Ingredients:
For the lentil base
1 tbsp olive oil
A small knob of butter
1 carrot diced small
half an onion diced small
1 celery stick diced small
2 cloves of garlic
25g pancetta (the thin slices not lardons) cut into small strips
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bayleaf

For the lentils
250 g puy lentils (not from a tin)
750g water
A slug of olive oil
25g pancetta (as above)
half a tablespoon of cider or sherry vinegar
half a bunch of spring onions cut into long thin strips
chopped parsley
16 small small chantenay carrots, toped,tailed, boiled for 8 minutes and drained

For the fish
3 or 4 fillets of cod (around 150g per person)
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper

Garnish: 8 slices of pancetta fired till crisp and drained on kitchen paper

Method
Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan. When it hot add the diced carrot, onion and celery. Sweat this down on a low heat for around 15 minutes until it is all soft, add the garlic, pancetta and herbs and cook until everything is fragrant and softened. Turn off the heat and cool, then tip into a container lined with a muslin cloth. Tie the ends up loosely to make a bag of vegetables. Then either sit it in the fridge overnight or carry on making the lentils.

Take a wide fairly shallow saucepan and place the muslin bag in the middle, add the lentils and the water. Then bring it up to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes, checking that the water has not evaporated too much. The lentils will be cooked when most of the water has evaporated and the lentils still have a slight bite to them – you don’t want mushy lentils. Remove the muslin bag to a bowl and keep for later.

While the lentils are cooking, mix the paprika with the oil and paint the cod with the oil, Season with plenty of salt and pepper and allow the oil to seep into the fish.

When the lentils are cooked, season well with salt and pepper (not before as the salt will turn the lentils hard) and set to one side. In a small frying pan add a slug of oil, and fry the pancetta until cooked, deglaze the pan with the vinegar, then add to the lentils. Throw in the spring onions, the cooked carrots and squeeze in as much liquid from the muslin bag as you can. While this is heating through on a low heat, take the frying pan in which you cooked the pancetta and add the cod to the pan cook for around 5 minutes (depending on how thick your fish is) turning every couple of minutes, until it is cooked through.

To serve, place the lentils on the plate, add 4 carrots per person, place the cod on top, scatter with parsley and place 2 rashers of crispy pancetta on top. Serve with crusty bread.

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