Cured Pork Shoulder with Green Lentils Recipe

Petit Salé aux Lentilles

[Petit Salé aux Lentilles]

If you had told twelve-year-old me that a Sunday morning, fifteen years later, would find me cooking this dish, I would have laughed so hard I might have choked on my petit suisse.

Petit salé aux lentilles is a splendid specialty from Auvergne in which cured pork is slowly cooked and served with lentils. The “splendid” part was hard for us kids to grasp when presented with the school cafeteria‘s take on it: sickly purple straps of oversalted leather sitting on a muddy brown mush. The sight and smell were disheartening enough that, on petit salé days, we largely subsisted on bread.

But now that I am older and wiser, now that I have a kitchen to call my own, now that I’ve been introduced to green lentils from the Puy and the Berry (the upper crust of the lentil society, delicately flavored and not a bit mealy), and now that I have access to a good organic butcher, my heart and stomach feel differently.

This epiphany wasn’t planned: I was simply waiting in line at the butcher’s market stand when I noticed an unfamiliar cut of meat in a dish at the far end of the counter (always be on the lookout for what the butcher keeps on the side). I couldn’t read what was scribbled on the label, so when my turn came, I pointed and asked hesitantly, “What does this say… magret de porc?” This, apparently, is very funny*; try it on your butcher sometime. No, what the label said was jarret de porc (pork shank) and he was out of it anyway, but what he did have was palette demi-sel**. “Great for choucroute or petit salé,” he said.

I had just bought carrots and shallots and I knew there was a package of lentils in my pantry somewhere, so petit salé was a done deal, and after getting a tip or two from my grandmother and assorted websites, up it went on the menu for Sunday lunch.

Fork-tender meat, softened vegetables, and pop-in-your-mouth lentils: this is a rustic and invigorating dish, of which you don’t need extraordinary quantities to feel the warm glow of satisfaction, and which constitutes the ideal dietary intake if you plan on going for a run and locking yourself out later in the afternoon.

* Magret is the breast of a fatted duck or goose. Since porks don’t fly (except for these piglets from Les Aldudes), there is no such cut on a pork.

** Palette is the cut of meat that’s wrapped around the shoulder blade of the pork. Demi-sel means it’s cured in salt: it should be soaked before use to remove most of the saltiness, and there is no need to add salt to the dish you use it in.

Petit Salé aux Lentilles

– 1 kg (2.2 pounds) salt-cured shoulder of pork (palette demi-sel)
Olive oil
– 5 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
– 6 shallots, peeled and quartered
– 3 cloves (clous de girofle)
– 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
– 3 black peppercorns
– 2 teaspoons dried thyme
– 3 bay leaves + 1 to cook the lentils
– 300g (1 1/3 cups) French green lentils, preferably from the Puy or the Berry, rinsed in cold water
– Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for serving

Serves 4.

Soak the meat in fresh water for three hours, changing the water every hour, to remove the excess salt (this is called dessaler in French). Drain and pat dry.

Heat a little olive oil in a large heavy pot — I use my loyal cast-iron cocotte. Add the carrots and shallots and cook for a few minutes over medium heat, without coloring, until they start to sweat a little. Add the flavorings (cloves, mustard seeds, peppercorns, thyme, 3 of the bay leaves), toss to coat, and cook for a couple more minutes to revive their aromas. Add the meat, pour in fresh water to cover, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for two hours, stirring the vegetables and flipping the meat every once in a while.

After 30 minutes, a greyish seafoam-like goop will have gathered at the surface. Scoop it out and discard (this is called écumer in French).

After an hour and a half, transfer one cup of the stock into a medium saucepan — use a ladle. Add the lentils and one bay leaf to the saucepan, and top with three cups of fresh water. Bring to a simmer and cook for whatever time the package says — my lentils cook in 25 minutes.

Transfer most of the cooking stock from the cocotte to a freezer-friendly container — using a ladle again –, leaving just a little for moisture. (Refrigerate the stock overnight. The next day, skim the fat from the surface, and freeze for use in a soup of cabbage and apples, or a fennel risotto.) Drain the lentils and add to the pot. Stir to combine and serve immediately and straight from the pot, with chopped parsley on the side for everyone to sprinkle on their plate.

Cooking/baking time: 2 h

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  • Pesql

    one of my great favourites :)

  • Maeg

    I can’t imagine you Clotilde, who seem to be such a perfectly poised and erudite person, causing the butcher to snicker at you but it was a fine story:). I love your subtle humor and hope you were not locked out of your home for too long. I wonder if I can get this kind of pork in the US. I would love to try that combination of ingredients as my husband is not very fond of lentils but is crazy about old-fashioned “ham and bean” soup, of which this composition sort of reminds me. Do you have any suggestions for a shoulder substitute in case I can’t track it down here in Virginia? Many thanks!

  • This is a great dish. I like to make it with just a couple of sausages or a smaller amount of ham (to let the meat just flavor the dish rather than being the star of the show). I like the idea of adding cloves. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Hi Clotilde,

    Thanks for the story, it took me back to my old school days where I hated eating the dreaded cafeteria spinach, I though I would never learn to love it… and here I am, loving it.

    I do enjoy reading your stories and recipes, that hint of humor is very entertaining.

    Take care,

  • Kate

    Ahh yes, this reminded me of the cafeteria’s “Welsh Rarebit,” which consisted of Saltine crackers drizzled with Velveeta. Pretty gross, and I can’t believe they passed off something so nutritionally lacking as a main course for lunch.

  • Alisa

    But maybe pigs dream of flying, even the organic ones.

  • Hi Clotilde,

    Isn’t it funny how as we grow older we learn to love (or at least try) the foods we were scared of as children? I am also wondering though if there is a suitable substitute for cured pork shoulder. Thanks!

  • Maeg and Marvin – If you can’t find salt-cured meat, the dish should work with non-cured pork shoulder. Just skip the soaking step and add salt to taste.

  • Wouter

    For your dutch and maybe belgian audience; if you have a hard time finding ‘Lentilles du Puy’, try your local ‘natuurwinkel’ branch and look for ‘Dupuis linzen’. What a mistaka to maka…

  • ann

    I’ve never seen salted pork shoulder here in the City, but then again, I’ve never looked for it. What I do know is available at all the Polish butchers is smoked loin and other parts which I bet would be just lovely in this. I’m on a lentils kick and adore choucroute, so this just might be my “sayonara to winter” dish this weekend. Merci!

  • This sounds lovely and just right for that end of winter feeling. I adore Puy lentils so I’m all keen to go and find out about Berry lentils now!

  • seta

    Hi Clotilde,
    I’ve been visiting your site quite regularly for the past few months. I had planned to make a nice Sunday dinner with family and I decided to try a typical French dish (largely due to your post on petit sales.) I was a bit put off by it at first- fearing it would be too much like choucroute, which i’ve only had at the canteen at work (horrendous), but I gave it a try (with fresh palette de porc)and served it to my French in-laws….it turned out GREAT! and your instructions were spot-on…when to cook the lentils and all that. Thank you. I am now their favorite daughter-in-law :)

    By the way, I want to learn more classic French dishes. Is there a particular cookbook you’d recommend- in English or French?

  • I’m a cassoulet fan so now I’m going to try this…

  • sam

    thank you so much for this!
    Fred yearns for it and I have had trouble finding the right recipe written in English. I trust your version will be perfect.

  • Jane

    I can’t wait to try this. If I succeed and this dish turns out half as good as your Compotee d’echine de porc that I made last week, I will be absolutely ecstatic. I’m sure it will as your instructions are spot on. Yum!

    I’m an American living in Belgium and these dishes give me the greatest excuse to ask the butcher for something “special”. (And make the locals wonder how I know what to ask for!) Such a kick!


  • BlueNancy

    Perhaps when pigs fly you will find magret de porc, eh?

  • Steve

    I brined a chunk of pork shoulder for a couple of days before making this. It was delicious.

  • Hi/Bonjour,

    Thanks, very helpful for meat and cold cuts translations – always my issue!
    I would just add that like all traditional French recipes this one has several versions and the one I learned growing up calls for saucisses de Morteau, 2 med. onions grossly cut and picked with cloves, 3 Tbsp of red wine vinegar (pour on onions when brown – “deglasser”), and salt pork cut in slices et voila for this variation.

  • emery_jc

    If you use a non-cured pork shoulder, should it be handled differently from the cured shoulder? Should it be browned first before the water is added?

  • Emery – If you use a non-cured pork shoulder, it is unnecessary to soak it beforehand, but you should season the stew with salt. You can also brown the meat if you prefer, but you don’t have to.

  • Jeanne

    Comme j’habite au Québec, je ne sais pas si je pourrai trouver la palette de porc demi-sel. Que me conseillez-vous?

  • Jeanne – Je ne sais pas très bien quelles pièces de boucherie sont disponible au Québec, mais il faut pour cette recette un morceau de porc pas trop maigre (du jarret ou de la poitrine, ça marcherait aussi), et de préférence salé, mais pas obligatoirement. Le plus simple serait de trouver un boucher à qui demander conseil !

  • Chris Peacock

    This sounds good, but….do you buy the meat bone-in or out?

    • In France, cured pork shoulder only comes with the bone out, but it would be even tastier bone-in!

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