Lamb, onions and potatoes become comfort food with an English accent: Lancashire Hotpot

by Terry B on December 14, 2011

This take on Lancashire hotpot—traditional English food at its most comforting—is made with lamb, onions and carrots topped with sliced potatoes and baked until fork tender. Recipe below.

Don’t you hate it when a good myth gets debunked? Turns out one of Mark Twain’s cooler quotes may never have been uttered by him. I say ‘may’ because while no one can find it in his writings anywhere, they also can’t find anyone else who said it.

The quote in question? “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I thought of this line the other day when I came across a recipe for something called Lancashire hotpot. It’s a traditional dish from England’s northwest coast, lamb and onions topped with sliced potatoes and baked in the oven. The very name reminded me of one of the coldest winters I ever spent, a summer in the UK.

My brother Michael was living there at the time, and we tooled around much of England, Wales and Scotland in a rented Mini Cooper. I not only wore all of the clothes I’d brought with me, pretty much all at the same time, but borrowed sweaters from Michael. And I still froze.

So simple, hearty comfort food like this coming from this beautiful, but chilly landscape makes sense. Calling it something as warm and promising as ‘hotpot’ makes even more sense.

The thing about traditional dishes is that the handing down of them happens in countless kitchens. Recipes are seldom written down and almost always tweaked to family tastes, so the variations are endless. Nowhere is this more evident than with Lancashire hotpot. At its most basic, the dish is little more than lamb, onions, potatoes, stock, salt and pepper. Some versions include root vegetables—carrots, turnips, parsnips and such. Some add garlic, leeks, celery, bacon and lamb kidneys (the Brits do love kidneys, don’t they?). More than one recipe also called for dozens of oysters, apparently an ingredient in the most traditional version before they became so expensive. For seasonings, thyme, bay leaf and parsley were the most common.

The lamb itself is subject to variation too. As Edward Schneider says in The Washington Post, hotpot is often made with “bone-in slices cut from what English butchers call the neck (just north of the rib rack).” When these or other chops are used, they’re often left whole, both while cooking and when served. Other recipes call for chunks of lamb shoulder or lamb stew meat. I went with stew meat—it was easy to work with and to serve. If you can’t find stew meat already cut up, look for shoulder or arm chops, which are relatively inexpensive. Trim away most of the fat and cut the meat into chunks. If you’re using these chops, cook the bones along with the meat and just serve around them. The bones will add lots to the flavor of the broth. Lancashire hotpot is also the perfect dish for mutton, with its slightly stronger flavor.

So here’s my take on this wonderful traditional meal, hearty, flavorful and truly satisfying. Served with a salad and some crusty bread for sopping up the juices, it’s perfect for a December night in Chicago—or an August night in Lancashire.

Lancashire Hotpot
Serves 3 to 4 (see Kitchen Notes)

2 large potatoes, Yukon Golds or russets
1 pound lamb stew, cut into bite-sized chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
canola oil
3 strips bacon cut crosswise into matchsticks
2 cups sliced onions, about 2 medium
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup water
about 1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Special equipment: 3-quart lidded casserole (see Kitchen Notes)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Peel the potatoes and slice them into rounds, 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Place in a bowl of cold water and set aside. Season lamb with salt and pepper and brown in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat, 6 to 8 minutes. Don’t crowd the lamb; brown in batches, if necessary. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a bowl.

Reduce heat to medium under skillet and add bacon, onions and carrots, tossing to combine and coat. Drizzle in a little more oil if needed, to keep onions from sticking or burning. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so, until onions are soft and just starting to brown. Add garlic and thyme to pan, stirring to combine, and sauté until just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Return lamb to pan, along with any accumulated juices, and stir to combine.

Transfer lamb mixture to casserole and add 1 cup of water. Tuck bay leaves into the mixture. Drain the potato rounds and arrange on top of the lamb, overlapping slightly. If you have more potato rounds than surface area to cover, tuck the less perfect rounds under the top layer. Carefully pour broth over potatoes until the liquid in the casserole is just below the potatoes. I used about 1 cup. Season potatoes with salt and pepper, cover the casserole and place on middle rack in oven.

Bake hotpot for 1 hour. Check to make sure the liquid hasn’t cooked away, then bake, covered, for another 15 minutes. Increase heat to 450ºF and uncover casserole. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the potatoes begin to brown. Remove from oven and let rest uncovered for a few minutes (the liquid will be bubbling when it comes from the oven—let that calm down before serving).

To serve, spoon potato rounds into shallow bowls, pushing to one side of the bowls. Spoon lamb mixture next to potatoes, along with some of the pan juices. Devour.

Kitchen Notes

Three servings? Four? This recipe will generously serve three on its own. Together, Marion and I ate a little more than half of it, and although we greedily wanted more, we couldn’t eat another bite. If you serve it with a salad and a rustic crusty bread, you should be able to get four servings out of it. Let your appetites be your guide.

Casserole dishes. These vary quite a bit in size and shape. For this recipe, an oval casserole that is reasonably deep is ideal. You don’t want the lamb mixture spread too thin over the bottom of a wide, shallow casserole, or it will dry out. A smallish Staub La Cocotte or Le Creuset French Oven would work as well.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa December 14, 2011 at 9:32 am

This looks delish. I’ll try it soon, possibly tonight! You know what the leftovers of this would do great with? A thick slice of bread and a spread of beetroot chutney. This is my recipe, and it is absolutely delicious and really easy!! http://lisassteamingkitchen.blogspot.com/2011/12/beetroot-chutney.html

Mr Bunny Chow December 14, 2011 at 10:43 am

like all slow cooked one pot poverty driven staples Lancashire Hotpot is a great bung in whatever you have that approximates the core ingredients. Oysters were indeed a staple for the poor as they could be collected by the poor from the seashore and were a great free source of protein and iron before pollution and development pushed oysters out of the reach of the impoverished masses. I love cooking this with cheap on the bone cuts like shanks (shin) or even oxtail as the marrow adds a rich glutinous flavour to the meal.

Glad I found your blog please keep up the great work I’ll be back

TTFN

Mr Bunny Chow

Jill Mant December 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Naturally, being married to a Brit, I had to stop and read your delightful post. Now I also feel compelled to try my hand at this….or something remarkably similar. I love your suggestion regarding the addition of root vegetables. I am working on redefined comfort foods for our blog (www.saucycooks.com) for January and am thinking I just may have to link back to this comforting recipe. Cheers!

Michelle December 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

This looks delicious although I don’t care for lamb… what changes would you make if you were cooking it with beef instead?

Terry B December 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Lisa, your chutney does sound like it would work well with the leftovers. Thanks!

Mr Bunny Chow—Thanks so much! And thank you for the historical role of oysters in this dish. I can only imagine the nice richness of marrow from oxtails in this dish. Now that it’s getting cold again, oxtails may be appearing here sometime soon.

Thanks, Jill! I hope you and your Brit husband enjoy it.

Michelle, take a look at Mr Bunny Chow’s comments about using cheap cuts of beef above. Also, I think you could substitute beef stew meat for the lamb. I don’t think any changes are really called for if you do. The beef may not be quite as falling apart tender as the lamb, but it will be delicious.

kitchenriffs December 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Nice, informative, hunger-inducing post! I’ve never made this dish; nor do I believe I’ve ever eaten it. What have I been doing with my life? I’m putting this on my long (very long; very, very long) list of things-I-must-cook. I’ll probably try it with lamb, but beef would be interesting too. If I were doing beef, I might add a bit of cinnamon to the pot (beef + cinnamon = great flavor). I could even see taking this in a southwestern US direction and adding chile powders. But for my first attempt? I’ll definitely go traditional. Thanks for this.

The Dinner Belle for Kimberlybelle.com December 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I love a good one pot meal and anything with roasted potatoes just screams to be tasted! I think that I might add some red wine to cook the veggies and lamb in..maybe enhance the flavors a bit. Thanks!

The Dinner Belle for Kimberlybelle.com

Terry B December 15, 2011 at 2:04 am

Kitchenriffs and Dinner Belle, thanks for your great comments. You actually give me the perfect platform to address recipes and riffing on them. I’m a big fan of that, as you can tell if you read me much at all. In cooking this dish, I found myself tempted to improvise. One thing I considered was adding wine, as you suggest, Dinner Belle. I always love how wine takes broth or gravy and elevates it to a sauce. You can smell the change as soon as the wine hits the pan. Ultimately, though, I feared it might change the nature of the dish too much, make it something other than the humble, hearty dish that is a Lancashire hotpot. Kitchenriffs, your cinnamon and chile powders would definitely do that.

All that said, variations like those you each suggest sound delicious and are how new dishes come into being. In fact, chefs these days have created a cottage industry of doing homages to classic, often rustic, dishes such as this and veering far from the original to update them (and usually, to justify hefty price tags). So experiment away, everyone, and report back with your results!

Mellen December 15, 2011 at 3:58 am

We make a lamb hotpot almost exactly like this, except we add parsnips, which we love in winter. Great rustic dish. Thanks, guys!

Carol December 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I really appreciate your comments about how recipes are passed down–or not. My husband’s Irish mum used to make splendid mashed potatoes at Christmas & New Year. Alas, I never thought to ask her for the recipe. After she died I realized one more connection that was lost. Years later I was perusing a book on Irish Cooking and there it was! Her mashed potatoes also had carrots & parsnips. I encourage everyone to ask loved ones for favorite recipes. I love parsnips so this story is a round-about way of agreeing with Mellen about adding parsnips.

Terry B December 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Mellen, I think you and Steve must cook even more than we do.

Carol, you’re so right about asking for family recipes. And your story reminds me of one I heard—perhaps on NPR—of a family’s attempt to recreate a grandmother’s secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. After years of experimenting, they suddenly figured out it was the recipe printed on the bag of the chocolate chips! If you like parsnips, you might also enjoy a side dish we make, sweet potatoes, parsnip and garlic, or another one-pan meal, roast chicken with root vegetables.

love cooking December 17, 2011 at 4:00 am

Woo…This looks really yummy. I think the meats will be really tender and the vegetables will be soft. I am thinking make it a stew version and I can cook it in slow cooker. Maybe will save me some works. Just lazy…people thinking…. :)

Christina December 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Thank you. You’ve decided for me what I’m making for dinner on Monday. We have some fantastic bone-in stew meat from a very yummy lamb in our freezer.

I’ll be adding sweet, frost-kissed rutabagas to this because that is what my garden is gifting me right now.

Terry B December 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Love Cooking—Good luck with your slow cooker version. Let me know how it comes out!

Christina, your garden must be amazing. I love how so much of your cooking comes from your own yard.

love cooking December 19, 2011 at 5:05 am

Try it during weekend with my slow cooker. Turn out really good, everything is soft and tender and all ingredients absorbed the gravy brings good flavour. But I let it cook for longer time, around 2 hours and more until the meats are really tender. You need more chicken broth to make sure the gravy won’t dry out. But it is really nice. :)

Kat December 19, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I had some lamb in the freezer, saw your recipe and made it last night.
I added a rutabaga cut up and chopped the onions instead of sliced.
Also used 2 cups of low sodium chicken broth (instead of water).
My husband and I loved it, I will definitely make it again since we both love lamb. ( I buy a boneless leg of lamb from Costco, cut it up into 3 or 4 sections, freeze it and we always have lamb in the freezer.) Thank you for the great recipe.

Terry B December 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for the update, Love Cooking. I’m glad the slow cooker worked out for you!

Kat—So glad you liked it! And thanks for the tip on boneless leg of lamb at Costco. I’ve never really cooked with rutabaga, but since you and Christina both mentioned it here, I think I’ll have to give it a try.

angela@spinachtiger December 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Such a beautiful comfort food. I’m so glad some people are still eating meat and potatoes. I think if Mark Twain didn’t say it, I’ll say it. I remember being in San Francisco in August and the door man had to wear a full winter coat, it was that cold.

Valentina December 23, 2011 at 6:30 am

comfort food at its finest. delicious!

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