The signature dish of the great port of Liverpool and a staple for sailors during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a plain dish but a good one, and was even popular with The Quality when they booked passage on merchantmen, as Janet Schaw attested in the 1770s:
“….lobscouse is one of the most savoury dishes I ever did eat. It is composed of salt beef hung by a string over the side of the ship, till rendered tolerably fresh, then cut in nice little pieces, and with potatoes, onions and pepper, is stewed for some time, with the addition of a proportion of water. This is my favourite dish: but scratch-platter, chouder, stir-about, and some others have their own merits.” E.W. Andrews (ed.), The Journal of a Lady of Quality…1774-1776 (New Haven 1939), cited in Peter Earle, Sailors (London 2007)88
- 2 lb lamb shoulder, cut into 2” chunks
- 1 lb beef chuck, cut into 1 ½” chunks
- about 1 Tablespoon of lard
- beef stock to cover the meat (about a quart)
- 2 onions, sliced into crescents
- 6 or so cups of coarsely chopped root vegetables in any proportion, including leeks, parsnips, and white and yellow turnips
- 4 potatoes, peeled and cut like the vegetables
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
- 3 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- chopped parsley
- Brown the meat in the lard, then dump everything else into the pot, bring it to a boil, cover and cook over medium-low to low heat fir between 2 and 3 hours; serve with the parsley.
- Lobscouse is a Liverpudlian catchall, so there are many variations. Some recipes add about a cup of barley, which is transformative.
- In Lobscouse and Spotted Dog (New York 1997), the authors include a much different recipe that sounds more German than English and uses cured meats that would have been available on board ship during the Napoleonic era. In fact, the authors of Lobscouse insist that the origin of the name is German, and Alan Davidson concurs in The Oxford Companion to Food. It calls for corned beef and pickled pork (hard to find outside New Orleans) or ham, crumbled hardtack as a thickener and alters the spicing radically through the use of juniper, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cloves, cardamom and cayenne to make a sort of awkward Germanic curry that sounds intriguing.
- Other sources give Lobscouse different origins. Lillian Langseth-Christensen is not sure, and cautiously writes in The Mystic Seaport Cookbook (New York 1970) that “Lobscouse was a sort of hash-stew of meat and bread derived from the Norwegian brun lapskaus or the Swedish lapskajs.” (Mystic 120-21) She provides three simple recipes, including a Finnish variation flavored with allspice called ‘Lapskoda.’ To make it, grease a cast iron pot with bacon fat and fill it with alternating layers of thinly sliced salt pork or corned beef, beef or veal, onions interspersed with whole black peppercorns and, cautiously, salt. End with a layer of potatoes, sprinkle a generous teaspoon of allspice over them and either simmer or bake the Lapskoda in a 300° oven for about four hours. The oven may be less authentic but would be a better bet; it poses less risk of burning the bottom layer of the stew.
- The key to enjoying Langseth-Christensen’s Lapsoka lies in its garnishes of rye crackers, Gjetost, mustard, pickled beets, potted cheese and sour cream. Her sketch of potted cheese lacks proportions but is easy enough to replicate anyway. Mix enough grated sharp cheese to fill your pot or pots and soften it by mashing in some ale or brandy or both; we would also add some softened butter. Let the potted cheese ‘ripen’ for a couple of days in the refrigerator before serving it.
- Some variations on Lobscouse, including one from Theodora FitzGibbon, add pickled r salt fish, in her case ¼ lb of salt herring fillets, to the pot, a flavor that can prove a bit jarring. She also seasons her “Labskaus” with 2 oz anchovies and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and adds a pinch of nutmeg, something that Mrs. FizGibbon tends to like to do. The dish resembles a hash as much as our other Lobscouse variations.
- To make Theodora FitzGibbons’ Labskaus, you will want the ingredients just mentioned along with 8 “medium size” potatoes, 3 medium onions and 1 ½ lb chopped, cooked corned beef.
“ Soak the salted herring in cold water to cover and leave overnight to remove the salt, then see that all bones and skin are removed and chop very finely. If using anchovies, drain and chop. Cook the potatoes in their skins and when soft peel and mash them. Heat the oil and sauté the onions, meat and herring then mix with the potatoes. Season to taste and brown on both sides. It can also be served with a poached egg on each portion and pickled beetroot.” Theodora FitzGibbon, A Taste of the Sea (London 1977) 83.
This has will serve 4.