May 21 2007

Lancashire Hotpot

We have two hogs coming back from the butcher on Monday. Maybe that is why my mind drifts back to those old books. Mutton is not on the menu very often now and has definitely fallen from grace until a very recent revival. I think of mutton chops and Lancashire Hotpot. How the methods vary. Dorothy Hartley flours and browns her mutton chops before standing then on end in an earthenware pot. She packs in an onion per chop, large pieces of carrot, then “some oysters”. Next she covers the lot with sliced potato overlapping like “tiles on the roof” She makes a thick, and to my taste, rather heavy gravy with flour, boiling water and the fat from the fried meat. To this she adds salt, pepper and, she insists, a sprinkling of sugar. Most important, she says, no, no, I say! Then in goes a dash of Yorkshire relish or anchovy essence. All this is poured over the meat and vegetables and the whole is covered with a lid and baked “with a good fire” for two hours.

Mrs Beeton fries nothing but simply layers meat and vegetables in a fire-proof baking dish, no oysters here, just water, salt and pepper. The lid is removed twenty minutes before the end of cooking to crisp the potatoes. Constance Spry favours the oysters, mushrooms and a good stock. She covers the pot with grease proof paper instead of a lid removing it some twenty minutes before the end of cooking to crisp and brown the potatoes.. No mention, of course, of such a dish from Elizabeth David. Her mission was to encourage us to look beyond our shores.

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I suspect a tour of Lancashire itself would bring as many, maybe more, variations. So I’ll steer a course through the middle, probably leaving out the oysters and cooking everything a day in advance, cooling overnight and removing the fat from the top before reheating.

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