What I love most about England (and I love a lot of things about England) are the footpaths. If you like hiking (rambling in the UK vernacular), this is the country for you.
Long before there was a network of paved roads in England, footpaths developed as the routes to market and church for the villagers. The footpaths are still there today, centuries later — maintained by protective legislation, village councils, and local residents. In other words, if a footpath happens to traverse your farm, garden, field or drive, you MUST maintain it for anyone who cares to use it. (“Keep out” and “no trespassing” signs are not permitted). For many, particularly farmers, this means building stiles, gates or stairs to give access through fenced property. Whew! That’s a lot of work.
But there are benefits of so many well-maintained English footpaths. You can walk almost anywhere via these paths. Simply pick up a suitable map (e.g., Ordnance Survey map series at 2.5 inches to the mile) and select a destination.
It could be 2 miles away or 20; your map will guide you to your destination via the footpaths. Don’t worry if you run into a house, field of cows, herd of sheep, church, or a business; the ancient footpaths give you the right of passage.
I walked at least 2,000 miles of these footpaths while living in England. So, I was not exactly a novice — even by the standards of England’s avid walkers — and was becoming fairly confident in my trekking abilities. Perhaps this was why I got in a bit over my head when I selected a 15-mile walk to the peak of Skiddaw in England’s Lake District, just north of Lancashire. What I failed to consider was the 3,000-foot vertical distance, which is not included in the 15 miles and was typically not a factor in the English Midlands where I lived.
You can see what’s coming next here, can’t you? The walk nearly did me in. The way up was fine, but slipping and sliding down icy scree on the way back was another story. I even entertained the possibility of sleeping on the mountainside halfway back. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that we had consumed all our rations.
When I made it down Skiddaw and to the village of Keswick, I don’t know what was happier – my tortured feet, cramping legs or my growling stomach. When I reached Keswick and a local pub, I would have been happy with beans-on-toast (not my favorite meal), but, like a beautiful dream, I found myself with a Lancashire Hotpot. At the time, it was my first, but certainly has not been my last. It is now a winter favorite.
Lancashire Hotpot, originally from Lancashire, but a feature in the Lake District north of there, is quintessential comfort food – crispy potatoes and steaming lamb. It alone would have been worth another trip to the Lake District and perhaps even another trek up Skiddaw. But the Lake District is remarkable either way — with or without the Hotpot.
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
1 tablespoon oil, olive
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 tablespoon oil, canola
1 pound lamb, shoulder chops
3 pounds lamb, neck, in 1 inch slices*
1 cup wine, red
4 cups water
2 tablespoons rosemary, fresh
1/2 teaspoon pepper, black
1 teaspoon salt
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
8 potatoes, Maris Piper or russet, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
* In the U.S., you’ll need to ask your butcher for lamb neck. Any butcher that cuts from whole carcasses should be able to save you some neck. Ask them to cut the neck in one-inch slices.
1. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven. Add chopped onion and sweat until translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove onion/garlic from pot and set aside in a bowl.
2. Add 1T vegetable oil to Dutch oven. Bring heat to high.
Salt and pepper the lamb. Brown lamb neck “chops” and lamb shoulder chops in batches to avoid crowding. There should be at least one inch of space between pieces of meat to allow good browning. Cook lamb until browned on both sides. Remove lamb from pan and add to onion/garlic mix in the bowl you have set aside.
3. Deglaze pan with red wine. Bring red wine to a boil while scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return onion/garlic/lamb to pan. Add 4 cups water to pan. Add fresh rosemary, salt and black pepper.
Cover and simmer on stove top (or cook in oven at 325 deg F) for about 2 1/2 hours – or until meat falls easily from the bone.
Remove from heat and let cool until you can handle the meat.
4. Remove meat from the pot, reserving the stock. Debone meat. Return meat and reserved stock to the Dutch oven.
Peel and slice carrots. Add carrots and Worcestershire Sauce to Dutch oven.
Bring to a simmer. The stew should be thick rather the soupy. If you have too much stock, skim the stock until you can see the meat/carrots at the surface.
5. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. While meat and carrots are returning to a simmer, peel about 8 potatoes. If you are making this in the UK, I prefer Maris Pipers; in the U.S., russets will do fine. Slice potatoes and toss with 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper.
Add potatoes to the surface of the stew in concentric layers. Salt and pepper lightly. Cover Dutch oven. (You may switch to a baking dish rather than the Dutch oven at this point. In the photo above, I used a pie dish – covered with foil during the first part of baking)
6. Bake 1 hour in oven covered. This will cook carrots and cook potatoes until nearly tender.
Uncover Dutch oven. Raise oven temperature to 400 deg F. Cook lamb/potatoes uncovered about 1/2 hour more or until potatoes are browned.
Remove from oven and serve.
7. DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS: Cook lamb and carrots through step 4. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Thaw in refrigerator on day of service. Continue beginning with step 5.