petit sale? or about lentils, really...
here in SF there's a restaurant that serves petit sale as an appetizer, tarted up with a thin sliver of foie gras on top of a thin slice of pork belly. the lentils underneath are very rich and delicious, full of smokey bacon flavor.
after looking up the dish and wanting it as a meal rather than an appetizer (with no need for the foie gras embellishment), i found a brined pork belly recipe in paula wolfert's "the cooking of southwestern france," which...i can't be bothered to fetch the book right now, but it was referred to in the french name as petit sale, except she serves it with a fresh fava bean ragout. my pork belly turned out to be incredible, even though i cut short the brining by a day out of impatience and hunger. so while i feel i've got that part down, i'm wondering if anyone can give me help on the lentils to go with it?
lentils elude me, unless i'm making soup. even when i get their texture right (and i've been using the french de puy lentils, which hold up better), i can't seem to get them to taste like something other than health food. even when i overloaded a batch with bacon, it just seemed flat and one dimensional.
so can anyone give me pointers? while the de puy lentils are more expensive than others, i can get pork belly at asian and latin markets here for cheap, and this seems like a great winter meal i can freeze portions of, enjoying an economical and satisfying meal. i just can't figure out how to get the lentils to taste right, at least in this specific use. and it's not a case of me wanting something to taste like something else. i LIKE lentils. just not my own. in this dish, specifically.
I participated in another petit sale thread a while back - it may be two years ago. I used both some online descriptions and Henderson's 'The Whole Beast'. It was the first time I used puy lentils, and I haven't turned back since then. I cooked the lentils with broth from the braising pork. I thought it was a marriage made in heaven, not because the lentils stood out by themselves, but because they complemented the pork. As Henderson puts it "WIth the rich and fatty belly you want quite dour lentils".
I've also cooked these lentils with ham hocks. The latest combination included barley. I've also used them for salads. At Christmas I made 'fake caviar' using small black beluga lentils (cooked, drained, seasoned with olive oil, vinegar, S&P etc).
Adequate salting may be the key. Henderson cooks his lentils with diced veggies (onion, leek, garlic, carrots), but after cooking them till tender ('soft but not squidgy):
"Now season, which, particularly with lentils, is a very exciting moment. It is amazing what simple slat and pepper do to the flavor of lentils - them make lentils of them." He also suggests brightening the appearance with a 'healthy splash' of olive oil right at the end.
I am unfamiliar with the particular dish to which you refer, but do encourage you to cook your lentils in a good stock rather than water. Does "overloaded a batch with bacon" mean separately-cooked bacon added at the end? My mother browned a piece of slab bacon, then sweated some onions with it before adding water, bay leaf, and peppercorns, simmered that for a while and only then added lentils. This became either soup or was further cooked to the consistency of refried beans. The slab was removed and enjoyed by my parents; I wouldn't touch it. Another version (which is what I still use), uses a piece of the smoked pork product called "daisy butt" rather than the bacon. It's the shape of a thick salami and wrapped in red plastic, usually weighing 1.5-2 #. A third to a half of a daisy butt, in thick slices, will flavor the liquid for a pound of lentils.
Lentils cooked this way have a lot of flavor; not sure if it's what you're looking for.