This being a rare Friday when meat is on the menu — Happy Easter! — I thought I’d do something with a ham hock. It’s a riff on the rustic French idea of salt pork with lentils – jambonneau aux lentilles, petit salé aux lentilles etc – which is one of those simple combinations that just works, particularly when mustard joins the party. The hock takes a while to cook, so I’m afraid this isn’t a quick after-work number, though the hands-on time is pretty negligible.
1 ham hock (preferably unsmoked), about 1.3kg
1 medium carrot, peeled and halved
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
2 celery sticks, halved
1 small head of garlic, halved horizontally
A handful of thyme sprigs
4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
For the lentils
200g puy lentils (or other similar green lentils)
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
500ml chicken stock
500ml of the ham-cooking liquid
Fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of ½ small lemon
For the leek and mustard sauce
½ leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped as finely as possible
75ml dry white wine
75ml double cream
2 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
250ml of the ham-cooking liquid
2 handfuls of finely-chopped parsley
Put the ham hock in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then throw away the water.
Cover with fresh cold water, add the carrot, sliced onion, celery, garlic, thyme, cloves, peppercorns and 4 bay leaves
Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 2 ½ hours, or until the hock meat is tender to the bone. Top up with boiling water from time to time if necessary so the hock remains just submerged. Remove from the heat and leave in the liquid to keep warm.
Put the lentils in another saucepan with the halved onion and remaining bay leaf. Add the chicken stock and 500ml ham-cooking liquid (leave behind any vegetables and herbs). Bring to a strong simmer and cook, uncovered, for 35-45 minutes, until the lentils are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving the pulses with just enough that they still flow. You don’t want them stodgy. Stir in the lemon zest, taste and season with salt and pepper.
While the lentils are cooking, melt the butter in a frying pan and add the finely chopped leek. Sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the wine, turn the heat up high and bubble away for 2-3 minutes until it starts to look a bit syrupy, then add 250ml poaching stock and boil fiercely for about 5 minutes until reduced by two thirds. Finally, add the cream and simmer for 2-3 minutes more until the sauce is the consistency of thin cream. Stir in the mustard, then taste and season – salt will help the balance.
Take the hock from its pan and remove the skin, bone and any particularly big bits of fat. Slice or tear the meat into pieces. Ladle some of the lentils into wide bowls (with or without the bits of onion) and put some of the ham on top. Add a generous puddle of the mustard sauce, then scatter with chopped parsley and a grind of black pepper. Serve with extra mustard on the side, if you fancy it.
The leftover poaching stock makes a good starting point for soup.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book isGood Things to Eat.