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Lancashire Hotpot

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I don't know why but I got interested in Lancashire Hotpot and its origins.

Now I keep seeing references to oysters, but the quandary I get is some say beef the majority say lamb. Now if I'm honest Lamb sort of wins, yet there is a few things that I struggle with, firstly many describe the pot as being tall and accommodating a leg of lamb.

Now I struggle being workers food would they really of been able to afford a leg of mutton, surely it would more than likely of been a breast or such like. Yet if we presume it is farmers food then it makes sense. But did farmers really need the all day cooking which it would of had? So here it makes sense that it wasn't just farmers food but a working mans dish miners/cotton.

So now I'm led into perhaps it shouldn't be lamb, now you ask why, well if I google oysters and lamb I get very few hits across many types of cuisine yet beef and oysters is another thing. Then we take perhaps the only real source for the era, http://www.exclassics.com/beeton/beet13.htm

BEEF-STEAKS AND OYSTER SAUCE now that is 9 oysters 8oz of raw beef per person, which is 2s plus the extra costs I presume. feeding 4

BROILED BEEF AND OYSTER SAUCE (Cold Meat Cookery). now 24 and a few slices of beef Average cost, 1s, 6d., exclusive of the cold meat, feeding 4/5

So then we look at mutton/lamb http://www.exclassics.com/beeton/beet15.htm there is only one reference to oysters,

TOAD-IN-THE-HOLE (Cold Meat Cookery). to replace the kidneys.

So having accepted that it would of contained Oysters, meat, potatoes and onions, and believing this to be an all day cook. Now miners or cotton workers or both? I found some references to the hoppier stouts/beers being preferred by the miners so that still leads me to beef and oysters.

I suspect beef yet lamb wins on the amount of recipes using lamb.

So my question is to the northerners that frequent in here, what meat should it be, going on the inclusion of oysters and suspecting many a worker lived on BROILED BEEF AND OYSTER SAUCE?

Edited by PassionateChefsDie (log)
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Been there read that but it goes further than that, why I ended up at Beetons. The fact we have stout/porter from Ireland being imported to Manchester. Ideas that it is a dish for miners to take down the mine wrapped in blankets. References to stout being the preferred drink for them as there taste buds have been dulled by all the coal dust.

I just see no reasoning for Lamb and oysters am I wrong then, why do so few cuisines use lamb and oysters?

Yet beef and oysters is a far more natural choice. Oysters are an integral part this is a poor mans food, I see oysters as a protein filler, presumably cheaper than meat at the time.

He chooses lamb this is the point I'm in a quandary about it fits with the farmers but less so the miners and cotton mill workers. Going on the use of oysters for the poor it makes more sense for beef.

Maybe there is no conclusive answer, but if lamb there seems little difference between an Irish stew and a hotpot, except the layering. Then maybe that is where its origins vaguely come from, as I would of imagined there was trade routes between Ireland and Manchester certainly going on reports of stout imports. Or maybe even a twist on Scouse perhaps.

Edited by PassionateChefsDie (log)
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Although some authorities, such as Alan Davidson in the Oxford Book of Food allow that kidneys or "oysters, when cheap" were included, a true Lancashire hotpot, like Irish Stew, is only potatoes, onion and mutton (specifically mutton chops) and of course seasonings, and stock or water. Others are mere hotpots or hotchpots which would have had anything available added, even carrots. Davidson also notes the earliest mention is 1854.

A Lancashire Hotpot is distinguished from an Irish stew by the arrangement of rounds of potato on top, and the pot being uncoverd so they brown during the later part of the long slow cooking.

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I think I would have to agree Jackal10.

More so after looking it seems Scouse should be lamb to, though it seems with some veg. I was a little surprised not to find the hot pot in Beetons yet find Irish Stew.

As it seems it was published in 1859-61 seems to make even more sense.

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I looked into the origin of the dish a while back and wrote a little about it here.. However, I have some more information now and will have to up-date this post. There is at least one recipe older then the reference given by Davidson (see below). What is important to remember is that this is not a codified dish and issues of what is "authentic" etc are not really relevant. In a recipe like this people used what was at hand, once a somebody says it has to be made in a certain way it suggests that the dish isn't made on a daliy basis.

The early recipes are quite poncy and have oysters and kidneys, two of the earliest recipes are London based, but there is also a Lancashire connection in some of the early recipes. Florence White gives a recipe in the 20th century with is very similar to these (oysters/kidneys) which is said to come from Bolton. So I don't think that there is any reason to suggest that including these ingredients is in some way not a true Lancashire Hotpot. One thing to consider is that at the period when the earliest recipes appear, it is unlikely that the average mill worker would have access to a domestic oven. You can't make a hotpot without an oven, so it's origins are likely to be a bit higher up the social scale.

London at Table 1851

At the bottom of the table, startling as it may sound, let there be a hotpot ; and as we are in a generous frame of mind, we will give to the public at large a receipt for one of the very best, most economical, and easily dressed dishes in the world, as Apollo sings, " Ply me, try me, prove, ere you deny me." The lean part of a loin of mutton, cut into small cutlets. Four mutton kidneys cut into slices, a quarter of a hundred oysters boiled and bearded, four or five potatoes peeled and cut into small slices ; mix the latter together, and put a handful into the bottom of a white earthen pot, or turtle mug, large enough to hold the whole of the above ; then a layer of mutton, oysters, and kidneys, after that a layer of potatoes and onions, then mutton, continually sprinkling pepper and salt betwixt each layer. When the pot is full, pile on the top a good lot of mashed potatoes, and bake in a moderate oven three hours ; before sending to table fill up with good gravy.

The American Stranger’s Guide to London and Liverpool at the Table, 1859

"……followed by a Paté de Lancashire, vulgarly called a "Hot Pot”. As many may doubt the merits of this popular dish,……….the following receipt is given:-.

The lean part of a loin of mutton, cut into small cutlets. Four mutton kidneys pounded, a quarter of a hundred oysters bearded, four or five potatoes peeled and cut into small slices; mix together, and put a handful into the bottom of a white earthen pot, after that a layer of potatoes and onions, then mutton, &c., as before, until the pot is full; continually sprinkling pepper, salt, and a pinch of curry powder betwixt each layer. When the pot is full, pile on the top a good lot of potatoes, bake in a moderate oven three hours; before sending to the table. Fill up with good game gravy."

A Manual of Domestic Economy: Suited to Families Spending from £100 to £1000 a Year by J. H. Walsh, (1857)


Take some fine chops from a neck of mutton, and trim them nicely, taking off most of the fat. Lay them at the bottom of a deep and rather wide dish, season them with pepper and salt. Lay a few slices of onion in the middle at the bottom of the dish, if the flavour is approved, and pour a quarter of a pint of cold water upon the whole. Then cover it with a layer of sliced potatoes, on the top of which lay a few more small chops, well seasoned, and cover all with another layer of sliced potatoes. Bake from an hour to an hour and a half or more, according to the size of the dish; in a very moderate oven

Indian Cookery, Richard Terry, 1861

Hot Pot

Cut 8 pieces of lean mutton the size of a walnut, take the skin from 3 kidneys, and cut each into three; place these in a strong pudding basin, with one onion, 2 potatoes, sliced, a little macaroni, and 3-doz of oysters, season all well with black pepper and salt, fill the basin with stock, and place in an oven ¾ of an hour; take the basin out, and cover the top with mashed potatoes; place again in the oven for half an hour or until brown; when done, pin a napkin round, and serve.

Dinners and dinner-parties by George Vincent 1862

Hot-pot (for eight persons)

A Lancashire dish, is much liked; so much so, that every one at the table always partakes of it, and most persons make their dinner of it. This dish must be made in a fireproof pan, resembling in shape a turtle-mug or cheese-pan. Cut three pounds of rump-steak into square pieces, cut eight or ten potatoes into quarters, some whole small onions, and mushrooms if in season, all well-seasoned with cayenne black pepper and salt, together with a dozen kidneys; place all in layers on the other, pour over them three or four table-spoonfuls of mushroom catchup, and put six or eight dozen oysters at the top, cover it with a crust, and bake for two hours.

A few larks or snipes are a great addition to the above.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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loose like a stew; browned potatoes on top.

Mill workers woul have had access to, if niot their own, then local communal or baker's ovens.

I'm not sure that there would have been communal access originally, but certainly by the close of the 19th century the hotpot had firmly established itself as the especially dish of mill workers.

However, not everybody in Lanashire was a mill worker and there isn't any evidence to suggest that it originated as a mill workers dish. There is also not evidence to suggest that mutton, pototoes and onions are the only ingredients in Lancashire Hotpot, in fact quite the opposite.

To get back to the original question, mutton and oysters is a pretty classic combination in English cookery, in particular the 18th to early 19th century. One reason for this is that shellfish would act as a natural flavor enhancer. You don't really taste the oysters, but the meat tastes more meaty. McGee mentions that to drive out the salt, shellfish like oysters are very high in free amino acids like glutamic acid, so maybe this is why it works as a natural flavour enhancer.

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  • 1 month later...

Can't add anything to the ingredient debate but a chef on TV (Rick Stein's Food Heroes maybe, not Rick though) spoke of hotpots being cooked in conical earthenware dishes - like upside down tagine lids without the hole - that maximised the amount of surface area to volume so maximising the amount of browned potato.

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If you follow the link I provided you can see some images of these Hot-pot vessels. These large versions appear to be shallow pancheons (bread/dough bowls). Not really conical at all (although if you extend it into a giant cone I guess). Small versions have an appearance like a flower pot.

If you really wanted to maximise the surface area then you would use a baking tray ( and in some recipes they do), more practically these vessels have a flat bottom which is stable in the oven (unlike say a mixing bowl or pudding bowl, which were also used).

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  • 2 years later...
  • 2 weeks later...

As with most traditional dishes, Mum knows best.

And it's certainly something I remember Mum cooking when I was a kid. Only ever lamb (neck chops), onion and potato. Meat not browned. Casserole not covered so the top couple of layers of potato went crispy. Served with pickled red cabbage, of course.

Nigel Haworth (mentioned above) has a recipe which pretty much mirrors Mum's version. http://www.visitlancashire.com/site/food-and-drink/best-of-lancashire/lancashire-recipes/hotpot-by-nigel-haworth

John Hartley

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I made a Lancashire hotpot a couple of weeks ago. Had to use lamb shoulder as neck is just not available in my immediate area. What always strikes me about this dish is the amazaing flavour from so very few ingredients.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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