I really can’t praise this dish enough, it is one of those dishes where the individual elements are delicious, but when they are put together on one fork the results are sensational. The secret is the sherry vinegar syrup; it ties the different elements together and brightens the earthy flavour of the lentils.
Ah yes, the lentils. Long maligned as the preserve of hippies, health freaks and vegans, they are finally beginning to be recognised as nutritional powerhouses that – cooked correctly – are so delicious that even hardened carnivores will like them. It doesn’t hurt their case that there are many different types for many different purposes, and they are ridiculously inexpensive.
The ones I have used here are green lentils; I have experimented with this dish using different types of lentil and nothing else worked. You’ll find these on the shelves of the major supermarkets, along with the sherry vinegar, another previously exotic ingredient that is now mainstream.
RECIPE – for 2 people
2 slices of bread, breadcrumbed
50g plain flour, lightly seasoned
1 egg, beaten
2 hake fillets or loins
a small bunch of chives, chopped
2 or 3 good handfuls of rocket
a quantity of salsa verde
For the sherry lentils:
100g caster sugar
100ml sherry vinegar
200g green lentils, rinsed
2 banana shallots, or 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.
Season the fish with a little salt and pepper, then lay out 3 plates with the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in each of them. Coat the fish with flour by laying it in the flour first on one side then the other and dusting any bits that you missed; then coat with beaten egg the same way then coat with breadcrumbs.
Lay each piece of fish on a piece of parchment on a baking tray and chill until ready to cook.
Now make the sherry lentils: heat the vinegar and caster sugar over a medium heat and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes; the sugar should be fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Put the lentils in a large pan with the shallots and garlic, cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil then simmer for around 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft but retain a little bite.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT season the water when you cook the lentils, it will make the skins tough and they will be inedible.
Drain the lentils, shallots and garlic through a sieve, then empty out onto a large baking tray and spread them out to cool. Drizzle most of the sugar and vinegar syrup over the lentils, retaining a little for later. As the lentils cool they will absorb the flavours of the syrup.
Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. When hot, drizzle a little olive oil over the breadcrumbed fish, then bake for 12-15 minutes until the flesh is just translucent.
To serve: reheat the lentils so they are warm (not piping hot), put a handful of rocket in each bowl and scatter the lentils all around and over the top. Place the fish on top, with a drizzle of the remaining sugar and vinegar syrup and some chopped chives, and a good helping of the salsa verde alongside.