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Before starting the cooking process, first blanch the hocks to rinse away any impurities. To do this, just put the joints in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute, then carefully move the pan to the sink and drain off the hot water. Refresh the hams under cold running water for a minute or so, then tip out the water.
The cooking process can now begin. To the blanched hams in the pan, add the onion quarters, along with the quartered carrots and the celery sticks, the thyme and bay leaf. Pour in enough fresh cold water to cover and bring to a simmer. The pan can now be covered with its lid and the hams cooked, keeping the liquor at a gentle simmer for 3 hours.
To check if hams are cooked, pull out the small bone close to the large one – it should be loose and come out easily. Rest hams in the stock for 15-20 minutes (30 minutes, ideally), so the meat softens and relaxes. Lift out the hams and set aside until cool enough to handle. Strain off 900ml/1½ pint ham stock into a jug and set aside. Reserve leftover stock.
Now prepare the lentils. First blanch them by plunging them into a pan of boiling water, then drain into a sieve and refresh under the cold tap. This process not only rinses the lentils well, but it also speeds up the entire braising process.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the diced onion, carrot and celery, cover the pan and cook without colouring for 5-6 minutes. Tip in the blanched lentils, then pour in 900ml/1½ pint strained stock. Bring the lentils to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes – check occasionally and top up with more stock if needed – until tender. I prefer the braised lentils to have quite a loose final consistency without being over watery.
About 10 minutes before the lentils are ready, strip off the skin and fat from the hams with a knife, then remove the meat from the bones and cut it into rough pieces or shred it with your fingers. To serve, add the shredded ham and the coarsely chopped parsley to the lentils, and season with a twist of pepper. If you think you need a little more liquid, simply stir in an extra ladle or two of strained stock.