I hadn’t eaten Lancashire hotpot for years (well, we do live on the other side of the border). Then John’s youngest sister requested it for her going-away luncheon, last January. My mother in law served it with pickled beetroot, pickled onions and various chutneys, and it was delicious. I asked her how to make it and we have been having it quite regularly ever since. It is actually her grandmother’s dish, who was, by the way, a multi-award-winning knitter. I like to think we would have got on.
The recipe calls for scrag end of lamb, which sounds horrid but is wonderful. It is lamb, intensified. The meat somehow tastes both of the wild rocky hills and the delicate grasses that the lambs feed on. It flavours the whole dish and then falls apart, obligingly, in your mouth.
Scrag end (neck) of lamb – a piece for each person, plus one or two extra if you like
A few carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
A couple of onions, cut in half and then sliced into semi-circles
Potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
6 oz/ 170 g self-raising flour (or plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder)
3oz fat/ 85 g fat (ideally suet, or Atora, but even butter will do)
I know that the ingredients list is vague, but really, you know how much your household eats and how big your casserole dish is. If there are leftovers, warm them up for lunch the next day. If you’re worried that there might not be enough, serve with a crusty loaf and plenty of butter.
All you have to do is layer the ingredients in your pot: some potatoes first, then half the lamb, then half the carrots and half the onions. Repeat this, and finish with a third layer of potatoes. Add some salt and some boiling water – not too much, as you can top it up if you need to. I find that I need very little water in the Aga, but put in a bit extra – maybe halfway up the dish – if cooking in a different sort of oven.
Leave it on a low-medium heat for about an hour, before stirring everything together and checking on the water content. You want it to be moist enough to cook properly, but not watery by the time it’s done. Then turn the oven down low if you want to leave it for ages. To serve it sooner, leave the heat as it is. It tastes better if it’s had at least 2-3 hours.
My mother in law likes to add a suet crust to the top of her hotpot, and my children all think that this is an excellent idea. Turn the oven up to around gas mark 4/ 180 degrees Celcius/ 350 degrees Farenheit. Then make the crust just as you would make any other pastry, and add it to the top twenty minutes or so before serving.
Make sure that everyone gets some crust, a nice piece of lamb and plenty of vegetables, then pass the pickles round. This really is a perfect meal for chilly autumn evenings, full of different flavours but with enough stodge to keep the cold out.