A stolen Lancashire hotpot, and a good one, from The Plagiarist in the Kitchen by Jonathan Meades. The minimalist recipe is all you need:
“Stolen word for word from Anthony Burgess (whose shade does not disapprove) ‘It needs very slow cooking in an oven. Into a family-sized, brown, oval-shaped dish with a lid, you place the following ingredients: best end of neck of lamb, trimmed of all fat; potatoes and onions thickly sliced. These go in alternate layers. Season well, cover with good stock, top with oysters or, if you wish, sliced beef kidneys. There is no need for officious timing: you will know when it is done. Serve with pickled red cabbage and a cheap claret.” (Plagiarist 83-84)
-Admittedly this a more a sketch than recipe, in the manner of Elizabeth David, whose books never were much good as guides to the actual cooking of anything, but in this case the novice cook does need much more than Burgess has provided.
-Try a 275˚ oven.
-Of course your pot need not be either brown or oval.
-Shoulder chops work as well as neck and are easier to apportion; figure one for each diner. Mutton is even better than lamb if you can find it, most likely at a halal butcher. Yet another reason to champion immigration and immigrant communities.
-Chicken or beef stock would do, but lamb is better. Unless you live in the United Kingdom, where both Knorr and Oxo sell cubes, you will need to make your own.
-Lamb kidneys are lot better than beef for hotpot, and either pork or veal an improvement. Beef kidneys have a bad reputation as excessively ruinous but they may be improved by soaking for a while in a couple of changes of water spiked with lemon and salt.
-You will know when the hotpot is done by stabbing the lamb with a butcher’s fork; it will give no resistance.
-Oysters are a less common addition than the kidney, at least during the last fifty years or so, not because their flavor would be dissonant but because they have become expensive. The pairing of lamb with oysters in fact is a longstanding tradition in British cuisine; legs often were stuffed with oysters during the long eighteenth century, and that makes sense. British, French and Italian cooks stud legs with anchovies, a sort of analogue accent that serves the same purpose. The outcome never is ‘fishy;’ you will not know the seafood lurks within from the flavor but it will taste a lot better than the lamb alone.
-The original Burgess ‘recipe’ goes on:
“In his novel The Human Factor, Mr. Graham Greene has theeffrontery to add carrots to the dish. He promised to remove those carrots in a re-issue of the book, but they are still redly and wrongly there.”
-Burgess is right. Carrots do not belong in Lancashire hotpot, and not only on an aesthetic basis (hotpot should be dun, taupe, tan; as ugly as possible to the eye to spring the surprise of its alchemy, like Dublin coddle). Carrots are too sweet.