Monday, January 21, 2008

Hot pot

I’m sure everyone knows the background to the famous Lancashire hotpot; it’s one of those dishes that was prepared in the morning and put into the baker’s oven after the bread came out to cook long and slow and be ready at the end of the day. It’s a hearty warming dish for a cold day and maybe the men took it down the mine wrapped in a blanket as I have read, or maybe the mill women with their shawls around their shoulders and their clogs sparking on the cobbles collected it from the baker on their way home to feed hungry families. I always thought it was the latter actually but it could be both.

I looked up various recipes for Lancashire Hotpot, which I remember from my childhood in Cumbria where we had it for school lunch (yup, those were the days!) and I’m interested to see that the early 20th century recipes mention oysters, tucked under the final potato layer, as well as kidneys. But the surprise was that there was a special pot in which to cook the hotpot, a tall straight sided crock, in which the long boned mutton chops were stood on end to cook slowly all day with onions and maybe a carrot or two. The only illustration I can find comes from Food in England by Dorothy Hartley, published in 1954. She describes how the vegetables are packed in around the chops and the lid put on to cover everything until 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time when you take it off to let the potato topping brown.

If you haven’t got chops that will stand on their ends any other manageable cut of lamb or mutton will do fine. And this is a hearty dish so you shouldn’t be using your best olive oil for it – dripping is the thing.

Melt the dripping in a pan and fry a sliced onion until soft.
Put the onion in the bottom of a crock with a bay leaf.
Brown the meat on either side and add to the crock.
Add kidney if you are using it, then a sliced carrot and some sliced mushrooms. Season as you go.
Make a gravy by adding a spoonful of flour to the fat in the pan and stirring in about a pint of brown stock.
Arrange sliced potatoes over the top of the meat and vegetables and pour the gravy over. Finally sprinkle a teaspoonful of sugar over the potatoes and put to cook slowly in a medium oven for a couple of hours.
15 minutes before the end of the cooking time take the lid off and allow the potatoes to brown.

I don’t know why this dish works so well cooked this way, but it does. Mutton would be better than lamb but lamb is good. Don’t be tempted to do anything any more fancy than the above – no garlic, no rosemary, just salt and pepper, and that final scatter of sugar. The correct thing to serve with it is a dish or a glass jar of pickled red cabbage. Which I don't happen to have about me.


Annemarie said...

The hotpot is indeed the right thing to do at this time of year. Interesting tidbit about the oysters in the earlier recipe.

Ed Bruske said...

My goal is to locate a steady source of mutton here in the Washington, DC, area.

June said...

You might like to direct your quest towards HRH The Prince of Wales, who is a great proponent of mutton, and may have some good connections in your area!!!

lindy said...

This was one of my mother's dishes, and I never quite get it right. Could be it was the sugar, I didn't know about it. I'm going to try that.

It seems as if, in the supermarkets here, what we get is neither lamb nor mutton, but something in between- which they call "lamb."

June said...

If it really is in between it would be hogget - gamier than lamb - and it would make a good dish.I like mutton, but it's a bit of an acquired taste, and a shock to anyone unused to it. I'm not sure what the sugar does but if you know it is there it definitely adds something.

bwarengo said...

I live in the U.S., and have heard "hot pot" mentioned on many of the British shows my husband and I watch on PBS. I would like to try making this recipe, and was wondering if anyone has attempted this in a crockpot. If so, what setting was it on and for how long? Thanks.

June said...

Hello Bwarengo

I don't know what part of the States you live in that you are thinking of making hotpot in July, but I think it would be excellent cooked in a crockpot. I don't use one myself, but I'll ask around. Think of your crockpot as a baker's oven after the bread comes out and it starts to cool down, and yourself as a worker in a cotton mill coming home after a long day's work. A long slow cooking will produce an unctuous hotpot. The timing really isn't critical. Mmmmm.

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