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Pot luck with Lancashire Hotpot

Autumn’s definitely the time to turn up the heat, run down the blinds, and take solace in slow-cooked, slow-release, one-pot wonders. As I felt the first fingers of frost tapping on the windows in October I decided it was definitely time to blow the dust off my slow-cooker, which doesn’t get much love during the summer months.

One morning when I was at Stansfield’s the butcher, I asked about the availability of mutton. As chance would have it, some was due in later that day: Paul had serendipitously thought it was about that time for the older, more flavoursome meat to make a reappearance as it was drawing in a bit out there. Now, I love a good bit of mutton. Snobs may turn their noses up at an auld bit of sheep over a young lamb, but for certain dishes I’m a firm believer that the grain and richness of an older beast is much more appropriate. The dish I had in mind was a good old Lancashire Hotpot, a perfect home for an older sheep to end its day in…

It’s hard to find a definitive recipe for Lancashire Hotpot: such a family favourite means there are a thousand variations and versions, particular to a certain place. I’ve had delicately-balanced miniature portions in restaurants and great splodges of home-served goodness, and the unifying elements are normally lamb/mutton, carrots and spuds. After that it seems to be open season for a whole range of additional elements.

A few years ago I saw the Hairy Bikers making hotpot in Bury Market and they suggested adding a layer of the local black budding to give a layer of unctuous goodness at the bottom of the pot.I tried this the first time I had a go at making this dish, and never looked back. Black pudding makes a great gravy base at the best of times (as used here) and it adds an extra touch of the local speciality to a hotpot.

I started by slicing a load of spuds and carrots, then laying down a layer of thinly-sliced spuds on top of a well-greased pot. Season well, and add the next layer… in this case a sliced link of Ireland’s black pud. Then another layer of spuds (I love that dauphinoise-esque experience of lots of layers of well-buttered spuds) and pieces of mutton, cut fairly small and mixed with some fresh parsley. Then that was covered by sliced carrots, then potatoes, then mutton and… well, you get the picture. Hardly scientific in terms of quantities, but delightfully fun to arrange.

Last time I made this I added a proper stock, but reckoned in the slow cooker I’d be able to rely on the liquid in the veg, so just poured some water down the edges, mixed with Worcester sauce. Some older recipes suggest adding oysters to the mix: I added a splash or three of Anchovy Sauce for a similar umami kick. The whole thing was then finished off with slivers of butter on the top, before the lid went on for 8 hours of overnight slow-cooking.

Proper Lancashire friends have told me the origin of the dish is that was cooked slowly all day in oven, ready for the working folk to get home. I’m a fan of all things cooked for aeons so the slow-cooker (crockpot) seemed a likely option. What I’d not bet on was how appealing it is to wake up to the heavenly smell of a hotpot: It took an almost superhuman effort not to wolf down a portion for breakfast, and instead save it for my intended evening meal.

Fast forward through the day and I served this up to a friend for an informal evening meal. Always good to see us attacking the pot for seconds with such gusto: hopefully this proves the worth of such a classic, simple, traditional British dish. Preferably the slower cooked, the better!

Scotch pie, peas and Irn Bru

Peas and goodwill to all pies…

Scotch pie and mushy pies, washed down with Irn Bru

Mister North went to Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands recently for a weekend of mountaineering, photography and general craic with mates.

Trips like this are normally characterised by convenient, compact and high energy food, and cannot be considered the pinnacle of foodiness by any means. We actually started the weekend with a home-cooked Massaman curry which I’d taken to feed a few of us after the long drive north. Apart from that it was largely sandwiches (preferably the kind which is resistant to being squashed when stuffed in a rucksac) and dried fruit, chocolate & granola bars – all of which is fine to eat when halfway up a snowy mountain. Once off the hill some solid pub grub and a good celebratory pint or two is the normal order of the day. In this case it was Fraoch heather ale in the local, the glorious Clachaig Inn, somewhere I heartily recommend if a legendary selection of whiskies and real ale is your thing at the end of a long day of outdoors activity.

However the unabashed highlight of my calorific intake was undoubtedly a Scotch Pie from the rather good Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum: we stopped off for a quick bite to eat in this self-confident and well-appointed fish and chip shop on our way home. I was rewarded with a great Scotch Pie (when done properly this is a perfect combination of tender mutton, unctuous jelly and a healthy amount of seasoning, all bundled up in an uncompromisingly tasty pastry casing) and a portion of mushy peas, unceremoniously eaten off my lap in the car, and washed down with a bottle of Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru. There lies a post in it’s own right, but I’ll leave that for another time.

As you can tell, my sister and I like the odd pie: several have already featured here, suggesting an unnatural preponderance of pie passion, but they’re perfect for the winter months and I just found out it’s National Pie Month in the USA. We’re also half-Scots, so I suppose we’re possibly biased towards this very Caledonian snack. All hail the pie!