Lancashire Hotpot – no bones about it!

13 Apr

I absolutely love slow cooked meals with good, hearty ingredients of meat, vegetables and potatoes.  Lancashire hotpot is one such meal.  I have seen many recipes for this dish, in fact some have said that finding two cooks who will agree on what should go in a Lancashire hotpot is about as easy as finding a straight-talking politician. There is even disagreement about whether the basic meat included should be lamb or beef.  Most recipes, however, use lamb and this is usually on the bone which, personally, I think makes for messy eating and is almost impossible for small children to get their heads around.  One thing I do believe, is that the cheap cuts of lamb definitely have the sweetest meat and they are great for feeding a family on a low-budget.  I have made this recipe for many years, using either breast of lamb or neck chops, but you will find no bones, just tender chunks of sweet tasting meat.  I thought I would try to find out a little about the origins of Lancashire hotpot.

There is a fair amount of controversy about the origins of this dish but, in the main, the experts seem to concur that this was born from peasant food, used to fill the stomachs of hard-working industrial workers.  Given their finances, even this would probably have been a rare treat at the table.  In the days when cotton was king in towns throughout Lancashire, tall brown earthenware pots would be left on the range to simmer gently, the slow cooking getting the best out of cheap cuts of meat, using the embers of the last night’s fire. If properly assembled the dish needed no attention until the workers returned hungry from their labours. The whole family would be working long shifts in the mills, even the small children earning a few pennies a day there, so the dish was ideal for them.  The traditional meat was mutton, best-end of neck, middle neck, or even scrag end, from sheep farmed on the uplands of Lancashire since time immemorial. It is a sign of the times that mutton is now rarely sold, so modern-day hotpot is usually made from lamb.  Years ago, oysters, once the food of the poor in Britain, seasoned the gravy and gave it a more gelatinous texture, as well as adding cheap protein.  Today these have been replaced by kidneys.  Whatever the recipe this dish continues to be a firm favourite in Lancashire and now, made famous perhaps by Betty’s hotpot in Coronation Street, all over the UK.

Here is my version, made many, many times and has yet to fail.  If you have stock left over from stewing the lamb freeze it in rigid containers for another time.  Don’t worry about the kidneys, you will not know they are in the finished dish and they give the gravy an incredible flavour.  If you don’t want to go to the trouble of cooking the breast of lamb you could use left over roast lamb, cut into bite sized slices and make the lamb stock using a stock cube.

Lancashire hotpot                                 Serves 4

  • 1 breast of lamb or 4 large neck chops
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 lambs kidneys, core removed and finely chopped
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 3/4 pt lamb stock (reserved from cooking the breast or neck chops)
  • 1 beef stock cube (not Oxo as it is too strong)
  • 1 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 1 tbsp thyme, leaves only
  • 2 lb potatoes (Maris Piper or Desiree are good), peeled and thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Put the breast or neck chops of lamb into a large pan.  Barely cover with water and add two bay leaves.  Bring to the boil, cover and then simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is falling off the bones.  Remove the meat and reserve the stock.  When the meat has cooled, remove the lean meat from the bones of the chops or, if using breast of lamb, from between the layers of fat and sinew.  Layer the meat in the bottom of an ovenproof dish.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C/160C fan/gas 3.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large, non-stick frying pan.  Fry the kidneys for 1 minute then add the onions.  Stir and fry slowly over a low heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are softened and just turning colour.  Stir in the stock, Worcester sauce, stock cube,and thyme.  Mix the cornflour with a little cold water and slowly stir into the onion gravy.  Season well, bring to the boil then pour over the meat.
  4. Top the onions with a layer of potatoes, overlapping them slightly.  Push the potatoes down a little so they become coated with stock.  Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 1-1.5 hours or until the potatoes are tender.  Remove the foil, turn the oven up to 200C/180C/gas 6 and continue cooking for a further 10-30 minutes or until the potatoes are brown.

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