Hotpot With High Kicks

When life gets really tough for anim­ated char­ac­ters Wal­lace and Gro­mit, they have a sure-fire way to steady their nerves. ‘Hold tight, lad’, exhorts Wal­lace in A Grand Day Out, ‘…and think of Lan­cashire hotpot’.

There’s some­thing robustly for­ti­fy­ing about hot­pot; essen­tially a slow-cooked cas­ser­ole trapped beneath a layer of sliced pota­toes. It’s about as dainty as a rhino­ceros in bal­let shoes, but if it’s com­fort and nour­ish­ment you need, there’s noth­ing better.

I was brought up on Lan­cashire hot­pot. My Great Auntie Susie made it at least once a week through­out my child­hood. When I got my first BBC job as a reporter at Radio Manchester, I lived with my Grandpa in his immacu­late little house just out­side the city and he assumed hot­pot duties. It was the time of the bit­ter coal miners’ strike and I spent most of my time report­ing on the clashes between the oppos­ing sides. Grandpa had once worked at the pits him­self and was pas­sion­ately par­tisan. Over a hot­pot at his kit­chen table he would fume over the fate of the pits and the miners.

I didn’t have enough money to buy a car — slightly com­prom­ising for a news reporter — but Grandpa, always gen­er­ous, offered to drive me when I needed a lift. We made an unlikely pair, arriv­ing at col­lier­ies and picket lines in his ancient Ford Cor­tina estate. Even when I worked the night shift, he’d turn up if I got stran­ded. Mid­night, 2am, 3.30 am — he genu­inely didn’t mind. And usu­ally, when we got home, there would be a hot­pot in the oven and maybe even a rice pud­ding.

The truth is that I didn’t really like hot­pot that much. It was famil­iar, it was cheap and it was filling. But it was bland and dull. My own ver­sion of hot­pot isn’t one that Grandpa or my Auntie Susie would have recog­nised. It’s made with beef instead of lamb for a start and it’s rich with herbs, gar­lic and red wine and gar­nished with rose­mary flowers and lemon zest.

Grandpa was the fussi­est per­son I’ve ever known, although I think he would have liked this new incarn­a­tion of his famil­iar recipe. Both he and Auntie Susie would have been hor­ri­fied by the rose­mary flowers and lemon zest though, and would have dragged them meth­od­ic­ally to the sides of their plates.


Serves 4

  • 1kg good qual­ity brais­ing steak
  • 4 table­spoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped medium fine
  • 4 car­rots, peeled and cut into roughly 2cm chunks
  • 1 leek, sliced into roughly 2cm pieces
  • 2 gar­lic cloves, sliced finely
  • 1 400g tin chopped organic plum tomatoes
  • Half bottle red wine
  • 500ml veget­able stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 good hand­ful fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 table­spoons aged bal­samic vinegar
  • 1 tea­spoon sugar
  • Season­ing
  • 3 or 4 waxy pota­toes per person
  • Hand­ful rose­mary flowers or finely chopped rose­mary and zest of a lemon

Pre­heat the oven to 160 degrees C.

Sea­son the meat and brown it with three table­spoons of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed cas­ser­ole or pan. You will need to do it in batches to make sure you brown it, rather than boil it. Remove the meat to a bowl and add the car­rots, onions, leek and gar­lic to the pan. Saute the veget­ables for five minutes until they start to take on a little col­our. Keep­ing the veget­ables in the pan, deglaze it by adding the red wine and stir­ring to remove all the good­ness stick­ing to the bot­tom. Sim­mer for a couple of minutes and then add all the rest of the ingredi­ents, browned meat included, apart from the pota­toes, rose­mary and lemon zest. Bring back to sim­mer­ing point, cover and then place in the oven for around three hours, but a little longer won’t do it any harm. Check on it after a couple of hours.

Remove from the oven. The meat will be tender, melt­ing and deli­cious but you will most likely need to reduce the sauce a little. Place the pan, uncovered, on a gentle to mod­er­ate heat on the hob. Once the sauce is a rich, silky con­sist­ency, check the seasoning.

While the sauce is redu­cing, boil the pota­toes in their skins for 15 minutes. While still warm, remove the skins and slice the pota­toes. Either place the slices on top of the meat in the cas­ser­ole dish, or divide the beef into indi­vidual bowls and cover with potato. Sea­son the pota­toes, brush with the remain­ing table­spoon of olive oil and place back in the hot oven for 15 more minutes. Tra­di­tion­ally the pota­toes would have been added raw at the very start of cook­ing. This method gives the poor old pota­toes less of a bash­ing. Serve the hot­pot with a scat­ter­ing of rose­mary and lemon zest.

Whichever ver­sion of this old clas­sic you choose, the beauty of a hot­pot is that it will sit hap­pily in the oven for hours at a time, just wait­ing to spring out and do a song and dance routine. A bit like Grandpa, really.