The Irish have their stew, Lancashire has its hotpot. Both were born as dishes of necessity, made from everyday local ingredients such as potatoes, carrots and lamb, that kept working families going through the winter.
What distinguishes the traditional hotpot, though, is its steep-sided cooking vessel, after which the dish gets its name. The pot cradles the long bones of local sheep, which lend flavour to the sliced potato topping. The traditional protruding bones make it an eye-catching, if slightly spooky looking, dish.
No one knows exactly how or when the hotpot came about, but what’s certain is that it was popular when Lancashire’s cotton industry was at its height in the 19th century. The dish was quick and simple to prepare and could be left to its own devices while its makers – female mill workers – were toiling in the mills and factories that propelled England’s economic prosperity. Hours later, when they returned, the hotpot would have turned into a flavoursome stew, the lamb gently fusing with its bedfellow ingredients. Oysters, which were cheap at that time, were sometimes added to bulk out the mixture.
The Lancashire hotpot in culture
Hotpot kept miners going too, the pot being wrapped in a blanket to ensure it was still warm at lunchtime. In the novel North and South, Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell described how Mr Thornton, a mill owner, dined on hotpot with his workers : “I never made a better dinner in my life… and for some time, when ever that special dinner recurred in their dietary, I was sure to be met by these men, with a ‘Master, there’s hotpot for dinner today win yo’ come?’”
The hotpot tradition continues in Lancashire homes to this day.
Here is how to make Lancashire hotpot
- Lamb 1kg (2lb 2 oz), Under shoulder, neck and shin
- Onions 700g (1lb 8oz), Thinly sliced
- King Edward potatoes 1kg (2lb 2oz), Peeled
- Plain flour 25g (1oz)
- Salted butter 40g (1 1/2 oz)
- Chicken stock 150ml (5fl oz)
- Sea salt 3tsp
- White pepper