What is a hotpot? I knew hotpots from Vancouver restaurants as specialties of several Chinese cuisines, e.g., Cantonese and Sichuan. Diners cook their own meat, seafood, and vegetables in a central cauldron of broth – an Asian cousin of Swiss fondue. At least, this is all I knew about hotpots before learning about the British dish by the same name. I certainly never have seen the British version here in beautiful British Columbia where I live – the only British specialty widely available in restaurants is fish-and-chips, guv’nor.
On our recent trip to England (you can see the trip pictures in previous posts), the most common soup available was leek and potato. It was fun to sample variants on this wholesome and oh-so-stiff-upper-lip classic British dish.
Seeking a traditional leek and potato soup recipe for a chilly Friday night, I turned the National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book, by Susan Edington. I had bought this cookbook at the Dunster Castle National Trust gift shop in England. The book was on sale for just 12 quid – or pounds (I am trying to master British English in addition to Canadian and American to be trilingual, in national-English dialects). Sorry, I just cannot stop myself with one more photo from our trip – the lofty castle above downtown Dunster in Somerset:
I promise, this is the last photo – the bridge leading to a path to Dunster Castle:
This cookbook surprisingly had no recipe for leek and potato soup. However, there was one for a leek and potato hotpot. If you have read some of my other posts, you might have noticed that I am into food lore and history, so I was intrigued by this Lancashire specialty. It is a “fatherless pie”, which are less expensive vegetarian one-pot meals – without the traditional lamb – made when times are tough. Leeks and potatoes abound in Lancashire fields.
For the history and the recipe….
The recipe in the National Trust cookbook was a bit confusing, as it was written. It referred to distributing potatoes among “the dishes” before roasting. So I consulted British cuisine expert and blog buddy, Jackie, of I am a Feeder. Jackie provided me with very useful on the British hotpot:
Traditional Lancashire Hot Pot is basically a lamb pie, topped with layers of potato instead of a pie crust…usually baked in one big dish and then served up to the family.
Lancashire Hot Pot was apparently created by Lancashire cotton mill workers, but …also a firm favourite with shepherds and coal miners, who could wrap it up and bring it to work with them, and it’d stay warm. There is also a small story behind it being a way to test the eligibility of a young lady for marriage (quality of hotpot = quality of girl)!
I bet Jackie makes a mean hotpot, as she is a high-quality person. She is also one of 24 finalists – and the only British contestant left in Food Buzz’s highly competitive Project Food Blog. You might like to read Jackie’s charming and hilarious entry in the competition and vote for her very clever and original creation: an azuki-and-coconut-filled pumpkin cake, with sassy choux mice.
The leek and potato hotpot is easy enough to make. It is essentially sautéing leeks, boiling potatoes, and making a cheese sauce to envelop the stars of the show.
Cheddar cheese is integral to this dish. Cheese is the element which turns the hotpot into comfort food. (During our visit to the UK, I insisted on stopping in downtown Cheddar, England, hoping to find Ye Olde Cheddar Cheese Shoppe. There was no such kitsch-y shop to satisfy me in Cheddar – nor any cheese store, for that matter, where I could have sampled various aged cheddars from various cheese-makers…harrumph).
My hotpot variant was to add a bit of cayenne – you would be correct in thinking this is not a traditional Lancashire ingredient. The cheese sauce needed a bit of a kick, so I increased the mustard powder by 50%. I also had to add far more milk than the original recipe required. The original recipe also neglected salt and pepper entirely – an odd omission, I say!
The hotpot is full of cheesy goodness, with chunks of potatoes contrasting the subtle chewiness of the leeks. It is a perfect dish for a cold, windy, rainy/snowy day – or any time you desire warm comforting food. The dish makes a great vegetarian main course or a rather rich side dish to a roast. It also would be a good brunch dish for winter, to accompany eggs or a basket of baked goods. Give it a try and think of why there will always be an England.
Leek and Potato Hotpot, adapted from National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book, by Susan Edington
Serves four as a main course, six-to-eight as a side
- 2 medium leeks (about one pound or 450 grams)
- 1 tablespoon oil (I used canola, but sunflower, safflower, or even olive oil will work)
- 2 ounces (50 G) butter, unsalted or salted (adjust salt in dish, as necessary)
- 1 ounce (25 G) AP flour (that is, all-purpose, of course)
- 1 cup (1/2 pint or 300 ml) milk – you might need more
- 6 ounces (175 G) of Cheddar cheese, grated or shredded
- 1 ½ teaspoons mustard powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1 pound (450 grams) new potatoes, boiled, with one tablespoon salt, until done, sliced into bite-size pieces
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Finely chopped parsely
- Preheat oven to 350, 160 C, or gas mark 3, if you are truly British.
- Take a leek (sorry, I had to stoop to adolescent humour), trim, slice into ¼” rounds, and wash thoroughly in a colander.
- Saute leeks in a frying pan with the oil until soft but not mushy, over medium heat, adding ½ teaspoon salt.
- Make a roux for the cheese sauce by melting butter in sauce pan over medium heat until bubbly.
- Add flour and stir continuously for two minutes, increasing heat to medium-high.
- Add milk gradually, stirring constantly, until mixture boils.
- Take saucepan off of heat and add mustard, cayenne, and cheddar, stirring until fully melted. Taste and add fresh cracked black pepper, to your liking.
- In a buttered oven-proof casserole, layer half of the potatoes (I used half red new potatoes and half of a fingerling variety of yellow potatoes – the variety I used is called “Marilyn” – I think, for their curviness….)
- Add sauteed leeks.
- Pour cheese sauce over leek layer, spreading with a spatula to cover evenly.
- Add remaining half of potatoes on top of cheese sauce.
- Bake for 20 minutes or so, until done – the top will golden brown.
- Broil, if you like, until the top is bubbly, for more of a crunchy crust.