This dish has plenty of happy memories attached to it. I went to university in Lancaster, and so this was a welcome Sunday lunch pub fare as we sheltered from the non-stop November rain in that beautiful but rather wet northern city! It’s brilliant comfort food as the weather turns cooler – and is simple to make and nourishing, relying on just a few basic, fresh ingredients.
There are many variations of this recipe, but the basic bones always remain the same – tender lamb, sweet onions, and golden, crisp potatoes on top. The cooking time is quite long as it was traditionally left on the fire to cook slowly for hours while the families of pre-industrialized Lancashire worked around the home. It means you can leave it on the stove-top to do its thing, giving it a casual stir every now and then, while you get on with something else.
2½ tablespoons sunflower oil
800g diced, braising lamb, chopped into large bite-size chunks
4 lamb’s kidneys, cored and roughly chopped
100g/3½oz/7 tablespoons butter
2 onions, finely sliced
500ml/17fl oz/2 cups lamb stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
leaves from 4 bushy sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary needles
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon cornflour/cornstarch
800g/1lb 12oz potatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a shallow casserole and fry half the lamb steak chunks for a few minutes until picking up a good color all over. Remove from the pan and add another 1 tablespoon oil and cook the remaining lamb in the same way. Remove from the pan and add the final ½ tablespoon oil and the lamb’s kidney. Cook for a few minutes until browned, then add to a bowl with the rest of the lamb.
Put half the butter into the pan and fry the onions over a low–medium heat for 10–15 minutes until softened and beginning to brown and caramelize. Pour in the stock and return the lamb to the pan, along with any juices that have collected in the bowl. Add the Worcestershire sauce and herbs and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook for 45 minutes with the lid on, then remove lid and add the carrots. Dissolve the cornflour/cornstarch in a tablespoon of water and stir this into the casserole, too. Cook for a further 30 minutes until the sauce has thickened to a rich gravy. It needs to be thick enough that the potatoes don’t sink into it. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needs be.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. Peel the potatoes and slice them into 3–4mm/1/8inch slices using a mandolin or sharp knife.
When the casserole has reduced to your liking, remove it from the heat and arrange the potato slices neatly over the top. Melt the remaining butter and then brush it over the potatoes. Put the hotpot in the oven and bake for 45 minutes–1 hour until the potatoes are cooked through. If it looks like the potatoes are going a little too brown, remove the dish from the oven and cover it with foil so that they don’t get any darker. You might want to brush a little more butter over the potatoes as you do this so that they get really golden and crisp. Take the dish straight to the table to serve.