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.


  • 1kg Lamb, under shoulder, neck and shin
  • 700g Onions, thinly sliced
  • 1kg King Edward potatoes, peeled
  • 25g Plain flour
  • 40g Salted butter
  • 150ml Chicken stock
  • 3tsp Sea salt
  • White pepper


  • STEP 1

    Season the lab with 1 tsp of salt and a pinch of pepper, dust with the flour. Put the lamb into the base of the hotpot dish (stoneware, diameter 21cm, height 9cm. A basic casserole dish will also work well).

  • STEP 2

    Sweat the onions in 15g (¾oz) of butter with one tsp of salt for 4-5mins. Spread the onions evenly on the lamb in the dish.

  • STEP 3

    Slice the potatoes horizontally, 2mm thick. Place in a bowl, add the remaining melted butter, season with 1 tsp of salt and a pinch of pepper; mix well.

  • STEP 4

    Put the sliced potatoes evenly on top of the onions and add the chicken stock.

  • STEP 5

    Place the hotpot, covered in a pre-heated oven for 30 mins on 200°C/400°F/Gas 6, then for 2½ hrs on 130°C/250°F/Gas ½.

  • STEP 6

    Remove from the oven, take off the lid, return to the oven on 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 for 30-40 mins or until golden brown.


Clare HargreavesFreelance travel writer and photographer