Meditations on Lancashire Hotpot

So, to a few thoughts on Lancashire Hotpot.

Certainly one of my favourite dishes, and now we’re into Autumn its one of the first cold-weather dishes to be re-introduced into the dinner rotation. By this time of year, British lamb is finally worth buying, and by winter it should have developed a decent personality (and thus flavour).

But even better than lamb for hotpot is mutton, and luckily Andy Step-Father not only had some in the freezer, but didn’t want to cook his signature curry. So seeing as I just only yesterday picked up one of Nigel Haworth’s hotpots, it didn’t take much encouragement to get in the kitchen.

So, to Hotpot. This classic one-pot dish can be made with as few as three ingredients: lamb, onions and potatoes. The hotpots come with Nigel Haworth’s Great British Menu recipe for hotpot. Scanning the ingredients I saw he didn’t mess with the ingredient list much – save for the rather decadent addition of a best end of lamb to finish the dish off.

But the recipe struck me as strange immediately as it seemed to violate several of what I considered to be standard practices when making hotpot.

This worried me; because there’s no more traditional Lancashire man than Nigel Haworth. What have I been missing out on by slavishly following the foppish Southern softy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe all these years? (Note: I love Hugh and his Meat Book is one of the all time classic books of all time).

So, let’s compare the differences.

1) Nigel doesn’t call for any stock or water to be added to the hotpot. Contrast this to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in his excellent Meat Book where he suggests 500ml of either lamb stock or water. This is immediately alarming – where does the sauce come from with no liquid? But it is worth noting that the half-litre of water in Hugh’s recipe results in a too watery sauce.

2) Nigel doesn’t put a layer of onions and potatoes in the bottom of the hotpot. This to me seems like an error – sorry Nigel, the soggy, fatty potatoes at the bottom are one of the highlights of this dish. With just a layer on potatoes on top, you’ll be fighting for the starch.

3) The meat is added without being browned in a frying pan first but with flour. I always think browning the meat is a good idea because those bits of caramelised lamb will add flavour to the final dish.

4) Accompaniments: Hugh reckons this needs no side-dishes, Nigel pulls out the stops with picked red cabbage and carrots and leeks. I have to say the red cabbage does work very well to cut through the fattiness of the hotpot.

5) Finally, and perhaps most crucially – there’s no Worcestershire sauce (or anchovy), meaning there’s nothing to give this dish a punch of umami and awaken the taste-buds. This is a real worry.

And yet, the hotpot at the Highwayman Inn and the Three Fishes is excellent.

So in the end I compromised; actually I didn’t even do that, I basically stuck to Hugh’s recipe, the one I know and love.

When I’m not cooking for other people I will try the Nigel recipe verbatim and see what happens.

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