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Nigel Howarth joins the search for the perfect hotpot

PUBLISHED: 09:18 16 November 2015 | UPDATED: 15:25 19 January 2016

Hotpot

Hotpot

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Undergraduates are working with Lancashire super-chef Nigel Haworth to come up with the ideal dish. He spoke to Roger Borrell

Nigel's hotpot Nigel's hotpot

If making the perfect Lancashire hotpot was a degree subject, then Michelin-starred chef Nigel Haworth would be Dean of the Faculty. That’s not as far fetched as it might seem.

Nigel is one of the UK’s top chefs, producing award-winning food from the impressive kitchens at Northcote, the luxurious country house hotel and restaurant in the Ribble Valley. The not-so-humble hotpot became his trademark dish, gaining him national recognition as one of the winners on the BBC’s Great British Menu.

Now, what may have started off as an economical, one-pot meal for workers during the Industrial Revolution, is the subject of academic study at Liverpool John Moores University.

Nigel Haworth Nigel Haworth

A number of the students on the Food Design, Technology and Nutrition courses have chosen Lancashire hotpot as their honours project and Nigel has agreed to work with them.

‘The students are looking at the dish from a scientific and nutritional point of view,’ he said. ‘I’d like to think they will discover that it doesn’t just taste good but it also does you good.

‘They are researching different hotpots - from the type you can buy in supermarkets to pub versions - with the intention of creating the perfect hotpot, which I’d love to have on my menu. That is what we want, the ultimate hotpot.’

The students will analyse the properties of hotpot ingredients including the sensory attributes and the behaviours of the components when cooking. This could involve evaluating different varieties of potatoes and onions.

They will also probe consumer attitudes and feelings towards hotpots from a modern and historic perspective and from a product development viewpoint. This might include new ways of preparing and cooking hotpots and accompaniments such as the pickled red cabbage.

‘This isn’t just a Lancashire dish,’ said Nigel. ‘It’s an iconic national dish and I want to take it to another level by having the perfect hotpot. It’s a fascinating project.’

Anyone who has sampled Nigel’s hotpot will probably think he’s already come pretty close to perfection but the dish does have its challenges. ‘Timing is a big problem,’ he said. ‘It has to slowly break down over four hours of cooking. On Great British Menu I did it in two hours and that’s how we serve it here.

‘In a restaurant you can’t make it to order and you never know how many people are going to want it unless it’s pre-ordered. I’d like to know how we might get around that problem. I’m a great believer in tradition and heritage and how that translates into cookery and, in turn, tourism.’

Certainly Nigel goes for traditional ingredients and he’s a passionate advocate of Lonk lamb. ‘It’s indigenous to Lancashire, it’s late season so it has more of a gamey flavour and it feeds on heather. Ours comes from Rod Spence just down the road at at Burholme Farm,’ he said. ‘It’s a great product and it’s on our doorstep.’

Nigel can remember his mother making hotpot with a braised neck of lamb and he’s loved it ever since. ‘We should cherish it,’ he said. ‘It’s part of our food culture. I never tire of making it.’

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