Contrary to some popular beliefs, making a stew is rarely a success when the cook applies instinct alone, and if you weren’t lucky enough to have the nearby knee of a Lancashire mother to learn at, finding a robust recipe for such country cooking is essential. One mustn’t be persuaded by the title either. The derivation, believed to follow on from ‘hodge-podge’ or ‘jumble’ of constituent parts, should not lead the self-assured cook to throw everything, along with the kitchen sink, into a pot and pray. The dish needs to be assembled quietly, carefully and simply, although never expensively.

Lancashire hotpot is surely one of the major stews of the world and recipes abound and although I do not use Jane Grigson’s perfectly serviceable recipe from her English Food (1974), I think the introduction is salient; “The English cousin of Irish stew, and very good when made with lamb or mutton of quality. In the old days, mutton was the meat used. Now it is almost impossible to buy, but if you do succeed, allow a longer cooking time”.

I have tried both and it is mutton that offers a richer, more savoury taste.

Lancashire Hotpot from Leith’s Cookery Bible (1991) Prue Leith and Caroline Waldergrave

Serves 4
900 g middle neck of lamb or mutton
3 lamb’s kidneys
900 g floury potatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large onions, finely sliced
2 carrots, sliced
Freshly chopped sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
570 ml lamb stock
55 g butter

Set the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4
Cut the meat into chops, trimming away most of the fat
Skin, split, core and quarter the kidneys
Wash and peel the potatoes and cut into 5 mm slices
Butter a casserole dish and line it with a layer of potatoes
Season with salt, pepper and thyme
Layer the cutlets, sliced onions, carrots and kidneys on top of the potatoes, season well adding the bay leaf when the pot is half full
Finish with a neat layer of potatoes overlapping each other
Pour in enough stock to come to the bottom of the potatoes
Brush the top with plenty of melted butter and season well with salt and pepper
Cover the casserole and bake in the oven for about 2 hours
Remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are brown and crisp

Wine thoughts

In her book Prue blithely recommends ‘Claret’, which could lead one in a host of different if not unpleasant directions. A fine, aged Bordeaux may well fit the bill, if your ISA’s are doing their job well, but in the spirit of our impecunious supper dish, something more modest might make a better fit. I am happy to stay with the grape variety; Cabernet Sauvignon, but would look for a style from the New World, say Chile or Australia where the climate allows the grapes a more consistent growth and the wine a more reliable maturity, offering good value wines after only 3 or 4 years.