I dare not call this “hot pot” as it would offend the pride of a number of regions who claim hot pot as their own.
- 500g of lamb neck fillet or shoulder, chopped into one inch pieces
- a handful of diced streaky bacon (roughly 50g if measurements like “a handful” bother you)
- an equal volume of carrots and onions or leeks
- 750g of potatoes
- stock (Marigold boullion powder is fine)
- some fresh or dried thyme
- Worcester sauce (this is the secret ingredient)
- flour, butter, oil, salt, pepper
To avoid unnecessary washing up, pick a large pot that can go on the stove top and in the oven. I use a big cast iron pot for this: not a Le Creuset, but an el cheapo French thing from Robert Dyas; it was twenty quid and does the same job.
Pop the pot on a gas ring, gently warm it, and add the bacon. You want a low intensity sizzling sound, so the bacon darkens and oozes all its fat. Whilst that’s happening, slice the potatoes about as thick as a pound coin. Don’t bother peeling them unless the skins are particularly horrid or you’re having very posh guests.
Get the oven going at 140°C. (That temp works in my fan-forced, you may need to go a little higher in a gas oven.)
Hack up the lamb, turn up the temperature, and fry it in the bacon fat, in batches if necessary. We want to get it nice and brown on the outside, partially for appearance, and also for flavour. No need to cook it through, though, as that’s what the next stage is for. Once done, set lamb and bacon to one side, but leave any fat in the pot. Add the veg and fry, adding some butter or groundnut oil if there’s not enough fat from the bacon. (Avoid olive oil, as this would make it a little too Mediterranean. Mind you, add some whole cloves of garlic, oregano, olives and anchovies, and you could take this dish a long way south.)
Once the veg have softened a bit, return the meat, and add a splash of the stock. The stock needs to be hot if you’re using a cast iron pot, so the temperature change doesn’t cause the iron to crack. Give it a good scrape and stir, to release all the dark brown sticky gooey stuff from the bottom of the pot into the stock. Add a teaspoon of Worcester sauce, plus salt and pepper. A spot of dried thyme is good as well, if handy. Have a taste and adjust quantities.
Level out the meat/veg layer, and then layer the sliced spuds on top, and add the remainder of the stock, plus enough hot water to come almost level with the top layer of potatoes. (Having a freshly boiled kettle on hand is somewhere between useful and mandatory.) It’s a bit like pommes boulangères: we want the very top layer of potato to get crunchy, and the lower layers to get gooey.
Into the oven for about two hours, no lid necessary. Keep an eye on the liquid levels and top up if necessary. The idea is to achieve a gentle universal bubbling effect. Some people can do this on the stovetop, I think the oven works best. Towards the end, lever up the spuds and fish out a piece of meat. It should be tender, verging on the point collapse. If not, another half an hour won’t hurt.