I first came across the recipe for a Lancashire Hotpot in Real Good Food, my first Nigel Slater cookbook. I'd been reading his column in the Observer with increasing enthusiasm, and Real Good Food was an appropriate first book for someone who liked his column as it reads like a simple reprint of them with a table of contents and index. What drew me to the hotpot was the fact that it comes from Lancashire. The Critic lived in Lancaster for several years before I met him and was enthusiastic in singing its praise. So in the early days of our relationship it was natural that my eyes were drawn to a Lancashire recipe.
Unfortunately, the Critic is also fairly unenthusiastic about lamb, so it has taken me a while to get round to trying this recipe, which is based on leftover lamb.
Actually, let me correct that: Nigel's recipe specifies that it requires leftover lamb and to me it seems natural to use leftover meat. But the other recipes I've found - on the BBC food site, for example - call for raw lamb that you brown before assembling the casserole. I think Nigel and I have it right. If you have fresh lamb meat, why go through the hassle of cooking it twice?
I have to say we were not disappointed by the result. The roast lamb became meltingly tender as it stewed in gravy in the oven over nearly three hours. Because I had already roasted the meat, it was easy to eliminate the fat before putting it in the casserole (the Critic hates fat and gristle with a passion) and the roasted meat brought a lot of flavour to the dish. What's more, I sacrificed about a half a cup of precious gravy for the dish, adding a richness and depth that otherwise would have been missing.
If you have a bit of leftover gravy, some roasted lamb meat and a few hours, I can think of nothing better to do with them.
Lancashire Hotpot (serves two generously)
400 grams roasted lamb meat
200 grams onions (about thee or four)
200 grams potatoes
1/2 cup gravy
1/2 cup stock or water
1-2 Tbs flour
2-3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
4-6 Tbs butter, divided
Cut the lamb meat in slices and layer it on the bottom of a small casserole. Slice the onion in thin rings and cook them in half the butter until soft and starting to brown on the edges. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Add the thyme, gravy, water (or stock) and Worcestershire sauce and stir until a bit thickened. Pour the onion and gravy mixture over the lamb. Salt and pepper generously. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly. Layer them, overlapping, on the lamb and onions. Salt the potatoes and dot them with the remaining butter. Cover with aluminum foil or a proper cover and put in a low heat oven (140 degrees Celsius) for at least an hour and a half. Remove the cover and turn up the heat to 190 degrees Celsius for the last half hour. If you have the time, you might want to bake it at the lower heat for even longer: it will only enrich the sauce and make the potatoes more tender.
At the end, you'll have a savoury casserole with stubstance but not too stodgy. Although it has the same basic ingredients as a Shepherd's pie (bar the tomato sauce) it is much less heavy and the meat is deliciously tender. It was worth the wait.