If you’re good at chopping vegetables, this dish is a doddle. Even if you’re a little bit slower with the knife it’s still worth the effort. We find it an easy way to boost our fish intake, and it’s sophisticated enough to put on a dinner party menu.
Because salmon has quite a strong flavour, it’s good to have something a little bit hearty with it. The bed of puy lentils, diced vegetables and herbs does the job.
It’s important to cook the lentils in stock, which adds to the flavour of the dish. But it’s not necessary to get the amount of stock exactly right because you’ll be pouring off the liquid once the lentils are cooked, before you mix them with the veg. If you don’t have quite enough stock and the lentils are boiling dry but not quite cooked yet, you can top up with a bit of water.
Make sure you get puy lentils, which hold together throughout cooking, rather than the types that mush down and puree themselves during cooking. No other lentil will do.
Seasoning the salmon with a little bit of salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper will add that extra bit of flavour. The addition of the herbs and fresh lemon juice at the end gives the whole dish a lovely freshness.
Yes, yes, I know we had to use bottled lemon juice this time (which I’ve NEVER done before) but (as usual) I blame Waz: he used the lemon that was meant for this dish in a salad dressing earlier in the week.
Please excuse my control-freak attitude to chopping the veg in this episode – Waz is not as quick as I am. He does get there eventually though. I’m just a Very. Impatient. Person.
4 fillets of skinless salmon (or skin it yourself)
1 cup puy lentils
5 cups vege or meat stock (3/4 cup reserved)
1 red onion
2 medium carrots
2 sticks celery
1 red capsicum (pepper)
1 handful parsley
1 handful basil
juice of 1 lemon
qood quality sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Rinse the lentils in water. Pop them in a pot with all but 3/4 cups of the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour until they are soft to the bite but not mushy – sort of just beyond al dente.
In the meantime, skin the salmon (if necessary), pop it on a baking tray and season with a little bit of quality salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Preheat the oven to hot – 230C/450F.
Keeping them in separate piles, finely dice the onion, carrots, celery and capsicum. It really, really helps the presentation if you can get them into a fairly consistent small dice, about half a centimetre. This can be time consuming but is worth the effort – especially if you’re making it for guests. With the carrots, celery and capsicum, slice them into chopstick-thickness batons then dice them across into small cubes. Finely chop the basil and parsley.
Check the lentils to see if the liquid needs topping up. By now, the lentils are hopefully about 15-20 minutes away from being cooked, so in a large, heavy-based saucepan, gently heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil then gently sweat the diced onion until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and the celery and continue to gently sweat it for about another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pop the capsicum in and cook for another few minutes.
Now it’s time to bake the salmon in the hot oven for about 10-12 minutes.
Check the lentils. When ready, drain them and add them to the pan of veggies. Let the flavours mingle for a few minutes. Now whizz up a small amount of the lentil-veggie mixture in a blender to help the dish hold together. You can either remove about 1 cup of lentil mixture into a blender, add the reserved stock and whizz it up until it’s smooth, then return it to the pan. Or you can do what I do and just plunge a stab blender into the pan and blitz about a third of the mixture then stir it together gently.
The baked salmon should be ready to take out of the oven now and rest for a minute while you stir into the lentil mixture the chopped herbs, lemon juice and a tablespoon or two of good olive oil. Season it to taste and serve the salmon fillets on a bed of lentils with a sprig of herbs on top.