Tag Archives: Potatoes

Leek and Potato Hotpot: Classic Comfort Food from Jolly Olde England

Staffordshire dogs guard the leek and potato hotpot , originating in nearby Lancashire.

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….

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Poulet au citron, or Lemon Chicken

Enough of the pies and pastries – bring on the poulet.

Freshly roasted, the chicken rests next to its recipe source.

When I was a graduate student at La Sorbonne in Paris, I spent much of my time in food-related pursuits. Quelle surprise. I relied on Patricia Wells’ Food Lover’s Guide to Paris (I think I had purchased the first edition before leaving for France). When I was in Paris, Ms. Wells was the food writer for the International Herald-Tribune, published in Paris. It was a great resource for me, in exploring the city’s markets, restaurants, and, of course, bakeries – so here we come back to patisseries again…no escaping this recurring theme for long.

My favourite pastries in Paris were:

Tarte aux framboises – the classic raspberry tart,

Tarte au citron (the more puckery, the better for the true Parisian lemon tart),

Religieuses au chocolat or au café, (a variant on the éclair with a small ball of pate au choux on top of a larger one – to resemble some sort of religious figure – these delights represented my religious experience in Paris), and

Macarons – 20 years or so before they became a global food fetish trend, I was chasing down the best across the City of Light.

Ms. Wells’ book helped me to find the best things to eat, while discovering some more obscure parts of the city. I compared and contrasted the best examples, with the rigour a French literature student applies to l’analyse du texte. Besides, the best pastries were much tastier than the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance I was studying.

Since then, Ms. Wells has garnered a justifiably international reputation for her knowledge and expertise in French cuisine. I have purchased some of her later editions of “food lover’s guides” and cookbooks. Her cookbooks are always engaging with the backgrounds and context of recipes, consistently well-written, and precise in the directions for all recipes, which always turn out well for me.

After a brief rest, the chicken is now ready for carving.

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