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.
HOTPOT WITH HIGH KICKS
- 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
- 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.
Elizabeth David meets Gracie Fields. I like your tweaks.
Your mention of the miners’ strike has had me muttering ‘bloody Thatcher’ under my breath much to my children’s bewilderment.
I love the idea of Elizabeth David morphing into Gracie Fields. I think this could be the first blog comment ever to combine ED, GF and Margaret Thatcher. Who would have thought it was even possible. Thanks so much.
What an incredible experience to have been reporting in the thick of the miners’ strike. I must admit to having a Twitter exchange recently when someone innocently mentioned how inspiring she thought Ms T was after watching the film ‘The Iron Lady’!
You’d have needed that hotpot (and some high kicks after that). We didn’t have hotpot – only stew!
Stew is a terrible word – noun, verb, the lot. I haven’t seen The Iron Lady – it would no doubt get me in a stew!
That looks scrumptious! I think I’d prefer it with beef also. Lamb can leave an unpleasant slick of fat on the top.
Trouble is, I’m on a diet as I’ve pigged out so much since I retired last year. I’m afraid my helping of hotpot wioll have to wait!
I hope your helping of hotpot doesn’t have to wait too long. Like you, I much prefer slow cooked beef, although my son always asks for lamb kleftiko on his birthday.
What an interesting way of doing a hot pot. I agree about beef. Lamb/mutton can be a bit fatty in these dietary-conscious days. Also doing the potatoes like this should avoid those leathery discs that sometimes result from starting from raw and cooking the casserole for ever with them on top. Never thought of lemon zest and rosemary as additions much as I like both. Excellent as always.
Leathery discs – the perfect description for those long-baked slices of raw potato.
Oh this does sound lovely (and I am thinking of having T-shirts printed with the Wallace & Gromit exhortation!!). I did not grow up with Lancashire hotpot (for obvious reasons!) but have made a couple since arriving in the UK and they are indeed deeply comforting. Rather partial to your high-kicking one though! Lovely pics.
That’s a very good idea – T-shirts for everyone!
Great new hot pot. The lemon zest is a very interesting addition. Your Granpa was an real star giving you lifts even late at night. I love the idea of coming in late to hot pot and rice pudding. GG
He was fantastic – even more so, now I look back on things.
Does Wallace really say: and think of Lancashire hotpot? I never noticed! And you know I always love your posts; your writing is poetic, magical and such a true pleasure to read, but how I love this tale of your youth, your family. Please offer us more peeks into your life! I have never had a hotpot but can imagine it as another one of those hearty, long-cooked, filling meals eaten over and over again (like rice pudding in my husband’s family!). And I do so love how you kicked it up – perfect flavors! (and I love the imagine of them picking out the herbs and zest…)
Thanks so much, Jamie. Interesting to hear that you enjoyed the peek into my hotpot past – I wasn’t sure if it would prove appealing or not.
coming from Lancashire roots myself, i can completely agree that hotpot is the perfect comfort food. Your method looks enchanting and delightfully wholesome. I can’t wait to try!
HIgh praise from a Lancashire stalwart – thanks very much. Let me know what you think of it.