Duck and lentil pie

PUBLISHED: 09:11 10 March 2014

Richard Hughes step by step, duck and lentil.

Richard Hughes step by step, duck and lentil. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

Normally February is the month we go some sort of dish that could be deemed as romantic. The use of the blindingly obvious passion fruit appears with everything from fish to ham hock, chocolate comes in every guise, and sharing dishes come de rigueur.

Of course we are guilty of all of these sins, and Valentine’s Day really is the one day when you know you’ll fill your restaurant to the rafters, even if it is all tables of two. Over the years we’ve had everything from engagement rings to couples throwing things. I’ve had walk-outs, down-on-one-knees, and couples who spend the most romantic night of the year eating in total silence. I’m always staggered by how people leave organising these big dates until it’s too late, and, if you can get a table at anywhere on the morning of February 14, you probably won’t want it!

As with most people in the catering industry, my team and I live lives that are polar opposite to Mr and Mrs Normal. I’ve never had a Christmas lunch at home in 35 years, never been out on Valentine’s night, and can’t remember seeing my mum on Mother’s Day.

It’s the ideal job if you’re unsociable, unromantic and ungrateful! However, those in the hallowed circle do get to eat some terrific food and when we do go out we do tend to eat in some magnificent places.

This month’s recipe is a version of a dish that’s been getting rave reviews, the duck shepherd’s pie from the bustling brasserie that is Balthazar in Covent Garden. It’s our own version, with earthy lentils and prunes added to the slow-cooked duck. If you think a shepherd’s pie is not refined enough to woo your sweetheart, try this and you’ll think again.

I love this so much I’ve got it on the new menu at The Assembly House as we try to recreate that big, buzzy, European style. It has to be one of the county’s most beautiful dining rooms and lends itself well to food that is instantly recognisable and the sort of dishes you’d like to eat every day of the week. So remember, if you can cook, being nice to your partner is not just for Valentine’s Day – it’s for life.

Duck and lentil pie

For four people

2 large duck legs

1 teaspoon sea salt, milled black pepper

200g cooked green lentils

1 medium carrot

1 medium onion

3 cloves garlic

100g fresh leaf spinach

1 bay leaf, sprig of thyme

10 pitted prunes

500g Maris Piper potato

1 Place the duck legs in a deep dish. Add the bay leaf and the thyme.

2 Add the peeled garlic cloves.

3 Season well with salt and milled black pepper. Add two dessertspoons of water.

4 Cover with foil and place in a very low oven (160C/gas mark 2) for approximately four hours.

5 Meanwhile peel and boil the potatoes in salted water. When cooked, drain and mash well with butter, salt and pepper.

6 When the duck legs are cooked (they should be fall away from the bone), remove from the oven. Allow to cool.

7 Finely chop the onion.

8 Followed by the carrot.

9 Place the vegetables in the saucepan with a little of the fat from the duck. Cook gently to soften.

10 Add the cooked garlic cloves and the herbs from the duck.

11 Pick the meat from the duck legs.

12 Skim off the fat and place all the juices into the saucepan. Add the prunes, reserving four for the topping.

13 Add the duck meat.

14 Add the cooked lentils. Heat through. If the mixture looks dry, add a little chicken stock.

15 Add the washed spinach. Stir into the duck and lentils to wilt. Season to taste.

16 Spoon the mixture into the pie dishes.

17 Pipe or spoon the potato on to the pie dish.

18 Top with a prune.

10 Bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Serve with savoy cabbage, red cabbage, green beans or buttered spinach.

Richard Hughes is chef proprietor of the Lavender House at Brundall and the Richard Hughes Cookery School. He is also director of The Pigs pubs at Edgefield and The Assembly House, Norwich.

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