Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hobbit Test Kitchen: Shire Hotpot

This one was a definite winner. In fact it was such a BIG win that nearly the entire dish was gone before I realized I'd never taken a picture.

Given my level of skill with a camera, that hardly seems like much of a loss.

This dish is based on a British comfort food called Lancashire Hotpot, which I heard of because of Wallace and Gromit, easily one of my favorite cartoons of all time. The authentic dish calls for lamb kidneys, but fortunately for me, I only have to be authentically hobbit, not authentically Lancashire. We're dealing with an American audience here, so organ meats are right out.

Otherwise, Lancashire hotpot is a lot like shepherd's pie. The big difference is that it's made with sliced instead of mashed potatoes, which actually make it simpler to prepare if you don't have leftover mashed handy (and who ever does? Certainly no one in our house). We're going to call our version Shire Hotpot, and it's so good it might make its way into regular rotation in our kitchen.

I based my experiment on a combination of two recipes - one from AllRecipes, one from the BBC. I essentially followed the AllRecipes version (minus kidneys), but added in carrots because the BBC allows it.

Here's how we did it.

Mini Shire Hotpot

1 tiny onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

½ pound cubed leg of lamb meat
3 to 4 medium-to-large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

cup lamb stock
1 cube of chicken bouillon, crushed

I used lamb steaks to make my stew meat for this, which meant cutting away some fat, membrane, and bone. I put it all in a small saucepan with some water and a sprinkling of Bell's poultry seasoning to boil into some stock while the potatoes and carrots were peeled and sliced.

Preheat the oven 375°F.

While the lamb stock boiled, I sautéed the onions with the carrots in some vegetable oil and butter. (The Lancashire recipe that allowed for the inclusion of carrots suggested this method.) Then I took them from the pan and set them aside. I put the lamb in the skillet to brown it on all sides; the original recipe said to fry it for 12 to 15 minutes, "until rich chestnut brown in color," but I had mine in very small cubes and I didn't want it to get tough or crunchy. So once it browned, I actually added the lamb stock plus the crushed bouillon right in there and let it stew away until 12 minutes had passed. (The bouillon was added because the stock hadn't had time to boil for very long; I presumed it might be kind of weak.)

Because this was a trial sized hotpot, I made it in a greased loaf pan. I put a nice layer of potato slices on the bottom and salted and peppered them, then the onions and carrots went in (more salt), then the stew meat (but reserving the broth - it should be poured over the top potatoes). Here I put in just a sprinkling of thyme (but the lamb is so good on its own I may skip this next time), then lay the last of the potatoes over, slathered some butter on top, and poured the broth over the whole thing.

I covered the whole thing in foil to keep it from drying out, then baked it an hour or so. When the potatoes were nice and soft, I slathered the top with more butter and put them under the broiler (set for low) to give the top some nice browning.

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