When it comes to hot pot every self respecting Lancastrian has an opinion. The consensus is lamb, not beef, not lamb kidney, sliced potato topping, lashings of butter, to make it the crustier the better, and in you dive. Delicious.
None of this theory of pie stuff, or nouveau posh nonsense with caramelised red cabbage dunked in balsamic and cutlets stuck on top (with apologies to Blackpool and The Fylde College which crafts a rather fine up market hot pot). This is original Industrial Revolution fare.
Now the Fylde, spiritual home of the hot pot supper, is rejoicing for hot pot, or hotpot, is out to make the grade up there with Stilton cheese and Champagne.
In what was initially thought to be a bit of April folly Lancashire’s Euro MP Paul Nuttall, for UKIP, the party that abhors all that membership of Europe represents, has set out to win good old fashioned Lancashire hot pot the recognition and respect it deserves. Even from the French.
The proposal would stop cooks outside the county laying claim to the Lancashire dish as their own and give humble hot pot “protected geographical indication” (PGI) status.
It would mean only cooks who make the dish in the county in accordance with the age old traditions could offer the genuine product. Anything else would be a mere stew, casserole, or near relative to lobscouse.
The move is lauded by Lancashire’s leading chef, Nigel Haworth, who won the Great British Menu challenge with his hot pot, and hit the headlines with his homecoming hot pot banquet for servicemen and women from Afghanistan.
He explains: “When people use all sorts of ingredients it doesn’t project the right image to our European partners. Lancashire hotpot has the heritage and it should be protected for posterity.”
The Lancashire dish sparked one of Blackpool’s more tongue in cheek “viral” advertising campaigns, the quirky oui ‘ot pot advert shot in Stanley Park’s art deco cafe, the shame being it was only aired on TV as a news item rather than an ad in its own right.
Traditionally, Lancashire hot pot consists of lamb and vegetables including carrots, turnips, potatoes and onions, then topped with sliced potatoes. The ingredients are usually covered with stock, or butter, and cooked in a casserole dish, on a low heat in the oven.
Within Lancashire, local variations include lamb’s kidneys, beef, pastry top and oysters.
But that’s the stuff of nonsense say pedants who play it strictly traditional. Even self-styled cookery detective Tom Bridge, author of last year’s surprise book hit Pie Society, coats his with a suet pastry crust.
Whatever would Betty of Weatherfield’s Rovers Return, where hot pot has become a legend in its own lunchtime, make of it?
Last November Liaquat Ali, owner of the Moghul, St Annes, home of one of the finest lamb rogan joshes, came up with a highly esoteric twist on hotpot to celebrate National Curry Week and curry favour with the Lancastrian lobby?
Chefs, celebrity or high street, play recipes close to their chest, although one expert Nigel Smith, now of the Villa, Wrea Green, passed long lost Lancashire lore onto pupils at Pear Tree School, Kirkham, during his stint at Ribby Hall.
The Big Blue Hotel, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and Thornton’s Twelve restaurant, are both hot pot bastions. At Garstang locals created the world’s biggest hot pot, not that our reporter, something of an expert, rated the flavour.
Steve Alexander, one of the chef tutors at Blackpool and The Fylde College, teaches students how to make hotpot and variations, which appear regularly on the menu at Courtfields, the training restaurant.
He said: “We use it for competitions, basic diced stewing lamb, onions, potatoes, stock, but add a fine dining twist, a lamb cutlet for garnish, cooked separately to the customer’s liking, as Nigel Haworth did on a far bigger scale. It’s a basic dish, up there with tripe and onions, and black pudding, for Lancashire.”
As befits a chef mentored by Haworth, Warrick Dodds, of the Hastings, Lytham, is singled out as our uber cool hotpotmeister in Eating for Britain (John Murray 14.99) by author Simon Majumbdar whose quest for the eternal Eccles Cake brought him, oddly, to Lytham – where he promptly penned paeons to Warrick’s hot pot.
Simon says: “It was the perfect example of a traditional dish being transformed into a modern classic without losing sight of what made it so wonderful in the first place.”
Modest Warrick admits his favourite Lancashire dish is Lytham shrimp salad with marsh samphire and a soft boiled duck egg. Goosnargh, naturally.