In many people's minds Lancashire Hotpot is firmly associated with the industrial revolution in north-west England, with cotton mills and coal mines.
I've always loved the name of this dish. It conveys an image of cold hands cradling a large bowl of steaming, tasty broth, full of goodness and warmth at the end of a long day. Just hand me a big spoon!
The origins of the name of the dish are unsure; from a cooking pot wrapped in blankets to provide a hot lunch at the races to something warm and enticing for tired and hungry mill workers to look forward to after too many hours of hard work.
Whichever interpretation one follows, Lancashire Hotpot is a tasty, slow-cooked stew made from lamb, potatoes, onion and stock.
It makes a very tasty meal and as it is easy to assemble, and virtually looks after itself once in the oven, it fits in well with today's hectic lifestyles. No wonder it is making a comeback on restaurant menus all over the country as well as in many family kitchens. Even if you're not a kitchen wizard, Lancashire Hotpot is very easy to prepare at home. It is best done in a large casserole dish with a lid, which can safely go in your oven. Or, if you want it to look like the real thing, you can use an ovenproof ceramic dish.
And since Lancashire Hotpot is baked in a lowish oven (170°C / Gas 3), you could even use your slow cooker.
Yes, really. Slow cookers have made a real comeback over the last few years. They fit in with our hectic lifestyles. Once you've put all the ingredients in, you can ferry the kids from dance class to rugby pitch safe in the knowledge that dinner will be ready and waiting when you come home. After all, this is what miners and mill workers used to do for decades! You could almost say that this is what Lancashire Hotpot was invented for.
Most slow cookers are blessedly straightforward to use. They can be small enough to feed one or two people, or large enough for a big family or a cheerful supper party. They're easy to clean and the rugged good looks of most of them won't disgrace your kitchen.
To top it off, slow cookers can also save you money. They use very little energy and - because of the long, slow cooking time - you can stop buying the most expensive cuts of meat and go back to using the really tasty, old-fashioned ones! That has to be worth trying ...
A dish of Lancashire Hotpot
© Monkey Business Images | Fotolia.com
First, assemble your ingredients. Keep in mind that this is cooking, not chemistry, so a few grams this way or that won't matter. But to feed four people generously you'll need approximately:
Start by pre-heating the oven. Then chop the lamb into bite-sized chunks, finely dice the kidneys (removing the core and any gristle), peel and cut the onions into wedges, and peel and thickly slice the potatoes.
Now heat a little oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot, then add the lamb a few pieces at a time. Cook the meat until nicely browned, then remove them to your casserole dish.
If your frying pan is on the small side, or you're making a larger quantity of Lancashire Hotpot, you may have to do this in batches.
When the meat is browned, fry off the kidneys, then add them to the lamb pieces in the casserole dish. Tuck in a bay leaf and 2-3 sprigs of thyme.
Traditionally, you would use all the fat rendered from browning the meat to fry your onions, but if you don't like the finished dish too rich or you've used a fatty cut of meat, then drain some of the resulting fat from your pan. You want enough left in to cook the onions without them sticking to the pan.
Turn the heat down under your frying pan and fry the onions until softened and a little brown around the edges. This will probably take 8-10 minutes and you should keep stirring them around to avoid them burning.
Sprinkle the flour over the onions, then add water and Worcestershire sauce and stir until well blended.
Season with salt and pepper. I find it can take quite a bit.
When the mixture begins to bubble, take it off the heat and pour the whole over the meat in the casserole.
Smooth down, then arrange the potato slices in a nice tight pattern over the top of the meat. If you're making a large quantity of Lancashire Hotpot, you can arrange the meat in potatoes in several layers.
Dot the potato slices with a little butter, and season with more salt and pepper.
Then clap the lid on the pot, or cover tightly with foil if you're using a ceramic dish, and move into the oven.
Cook for ca. 90mins, then remove the lid or foil and cook for a further 50 minutes. When using the slow-cooker, just follow the instructions of your manufacturer.
If you like the top of your casserole nicely crisp and browned, brush the potato slices with melted butter and place the dish under a hot grill for a few minutes before serving.