Friday, September 9, 2011

Betty's Lancashire Hotpot

I don't watch much television, but the one show I never miss, is Coronation Street. It's like being wrapped up in a nice warm blanket. The characters have their fair share of drama, but they're all down to earth and feel like old friends. My husband generally walks out of the room when the theme song starts, so watching the show is my private time. Much of the action on Coronation Street centres around the local pub — The Rover's Return — and like many English pubs, there must be some tasty offerings on the menu to keep punters around during the dining hours.

Coronation Street's Betty Turpin, played by 91-year old Betty Williams

One of Corrie's signature dishes, is Betty's Hotpot. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered that there is a campaign afoot to secure Protected Geographical Indication status for the Lancashire hotpot, meaning that Betty and the regulars of the Rovers won't be eating hotpots made anywhere else in the world. Protected status has already been bestowed on foods such as Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton cheese, which means that once identified with a specific region, a food cannot be made elsewhere and be given the same name. Champagne, for instance, can only be called champagne if it originates from the champagne region of France. So, if the current campaign convinces the EU to protect the hotpot it would mean that Betty can be genuinely considered an artisanal crafts-person and her hotpot recipe would enjoy a level of protection known only to some of the finest foodstuffs on earth. Quite right too!

Betty's Lancashire Hotpot

Lancashire Hotpot is a classic one-pot dish made traditionally from just three ingredients — lamb or mutton and onion, topped with sliced potatoes, left to bake in the oven all day in a heavy pot and on a low heat. The 'hot pot' referred to is a tall brown earthenware pot with straight sides, that, using the embers of the last night’s fire, would get the best out of cheap cuts of meat. Originating in the days of heavy industrialisation in Lancashire, in the North West of England, Lancashire Hotpot requires a minimum of effort to prepare and is relatively inexpensive — this recipe cost me $16! There are a few recipes around the internet for Lancashire Hotpot, but this recipe was featured in a Special British Corrie Sunday Supplement in the 90s, featuring Coronation Street characters and their recipes — so here is Betty's Official Hotpot recipe! 

Betty's Hotpot
Serves 4

1 lb 'scrag end' or best end neck of lamb, cubed
1 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and fairly thickly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups water (or beef stock — my addition)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp of flour
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce 
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the lamb in a heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoons of very hot oil over medium-high heat, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the sliced onions and fry until they begin to brown. Sprinkle flour into the pan with the onions and stir to soak up the fat. Turn off the heat and add the water (or beef stock) slowly while stirring vigorously to prevent lumps forming. Add a dash of Worcestershire Sauce; salt and pepper to taste. Then mix the onion, meat and stock together and stir in a bay leaf. To compose the hotpot, alternate layers of the meat and onion mixture with thinly sliced potatoes in an ovenproof dish. The top layer should be potato. Cover and bake at 325°F for 2-3 hours. Remove cover and continue to bake until the top layer of potato browns. Serve hot with traditional condiments as chutney, pickled red cabbage or pickled onions.

Note: Although not part of Betty's original recipe, I used beef stock instead of water, and added some chopped thyme to the meat and onion mixture. I also dredged the lamb in flour before browning it.