Quickly seared imported Norwegian Salmon, served on a warm bed of Lentils with Bacon with Green Peppercorn Sauce.
Fish is a wonderfully nutritious meal in summer or winter. Lentils are generally more of a winter-style dish in a similar vein to mashed potatoes, but in this instance, we served a very light and small portion of lentils with a moderate serving of salmon. This was particularly so because this meal consisted of four courses, but feel free to adjust the portions in line with your menu.
Always remember that your meal will lose some of its pizzaz (as will your party) if your guests are all stuffed to capacity early in the evening. They will happily nod off and comfortably digest their huge meals without contributing to the vibrancy of the evening – so try not to overfeed them.
If in doubt, you can always provide a small cheeseboard on the side after dessert for the hungry to nibble on.
Check your guests are all comfortable, top up wine and water glasses and tidy away clutter from starters.
For the Salmon and Peppercorns
1 tablespoon butter
3 small sweet onions (shallots), finely chopped
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
4 tablespoons dry white wine
6 tablespoons chicken stock (you can use fish stock too)
½ cup whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons green peppercorns in brine (rinsed – remove them from the brine and give them a quick rinse with tap water)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 pieces salmon fillet (150g to 200g each), no bone or skin
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh chopped parsley to garnish
For the Lentils with Bacon
450 grams brown or green lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
150 grams bacon, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf (this is not essential if you don’t have bay leaves, but consider getting them)
350ml chicken or beef stock
2 tablespoons double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pre-Preparation (30 minutes):
The green peppercorn sauce can be prepared just before your guests arrive, as with the lentils. The cooking process of the lentils is quite lengthy and you should at least have them simmering on the stove before your guests eat their starters.
Put the lentils in a large saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring them to the boil over a high heat and then slightly reduce heat to boil gently for 15 minutes.
Drain and set lentils aside.
Heat tablespoon of olive oil in a frying-pan over a medium heat and add the diced bacon. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the bacon is crisp and transfer to a plate.
Using the same frying-pan, cook the onion for the lentils in the fat for 2 or 3 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, before adding the tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Return the lentils to the pan too. You can now leave them like that with the heat off while you prepare to welcome your guests. The remaining preparation can be done once your guests arrive.
For your green peppercorn sauce, melt the tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Add the sweet onions (shallots) and soften for 1-2 minutes. Then add the brandy and white wine, then add the 6 tablespoons of stock and boil to reduce the contents by three-quarters, stirring occasionally.
Now reduce the heat, adding the cream and half of the green peppercorns. Crush the peppercorns slightly with the back of a spoon to release their flavour – they are relatively soft.
Cook very gently for 4-5 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly and then strain. This means you will pour the sauce through a sieve and effectively remove all the bits of peppercorn and onion. Place lid on and leave over the lowest heat setting.
Preparation (50 minutes):
After serving welcome drinks, return to the job of your lentils. Add the 350ml stock to the pan with the prepared lentils and cover. Cook over a low to medium heat, gently simmering for about 30 – 40 minutes until the lentils are just tender, stirring them occasionally (Set the timer so that you don’t forget about them and if they are getting tender before you are ready for the main course, then turn the heat down.)
If you need to add more stock because the liquid is drying out in the pan, then prepare some more and do so. Only add a little bit of stock at a time, just enough to keep them moist because otherwise your next step takes a bit longer.
Back to your lentils and it is almost time to serve them. The guests have completed their starters or second course and are now ready for mains. Uncover the pan and allow any excess liquid to evaporate.
Once most of the liquid has evaporated from the lentils, add the bacon that you fried earlier, as well as the cream, and increase the heat slightly to warm the lentils for serving. This should only take a minute and then you are ready to serve.
While this is happening, grab your frying pan to prepare the salmon – it will only fry for 3-4 minutes before it is ready so there is no need to rush or panic. Slightly increase the heat on your green peppercorn sauce to warm it up and add the remaining whole peppercorns.
The salmon will be cooked quickly at high heat to just sear it. If you cook it too long, it will suddenly become rather dry.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan until very hot. Lightly season the salmon with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes on each side. It will be ready faster than you think so be prepared. Remember that it continues cooking slightly even when you remove it from the pan. If you want to check that it is cooked, pierce the flesh with the tip of a sharp knife and the juices should run clear, but it is unlikely that you will serve it undercooked. Many modern diners prefer their salmon slightly undercooked in any event.
Serve a few tablespoons of lentils onto each plate and spread out slightly to accommodate the salmon; carefully place the salmon on top, spoon some sauce over and garnish with some chopped parsley.