FOOD & DRINK: LANCASHIRE HOT SHOT NEW BRITISH CLASSICS 3: LANCASHIRE HOTPOT

His search for the new British food takes Michael Bateman to Lancashire , where he samples Paul Heathcote's inspired variation on his county's most famous dish

PAUL Heathcote surely didn't get where he is today by serving black pudding. This is not a Lancashire delicacy rated highly by the Michelin Guide men. But they consider his restaurant, Heathcote's in Longridge, the best in the north of England, awarding it the accolade of two stars (thus rating it one of their 10 best restaurants in the British Isles).

Paul Heathcote, at the modest age of 35, has been bold enough to stake out his county origins on his dashing menu. He proudly features black pudding, pigs' trotters, shepherd's pie, rice pudding, and bread-and-butter pudding: all salient landmarks of a Lancashire childhood.

"Actually, I didn't eat pigs' trotters and black pudding as a child," he says, "and I didn't like rice pudding." So why on earth would he put them on his menu? "Stubbornness," he suggests. "Bloody-mindedness."

Paul Heathcote comes from a long line of stubborn, cussed Heathcotes, he explains. Great-grandfather made his name in Preston as a boxing champion. Grandfather ran his first marathon at the age of 63. Father was a champion bodybuilder, squash player and marathon runner who runs a health studio.

Paul, no mean athlete, surprised this macho family by opting to be a cook, of all things. He trained in catering for three years at Bolton Technical College, where he enjoyed cooking, but hadn't any great ambitions. Then his father lent a hand. taking him to lunch at Sharrow Bay, the luxurious country-house restaurant in the Lake District. "It was like knowing football from kicking a ball around in the park, and then seeing Liverpool play," Paul says. He badgered the patron-chef, Francis Coulson, for two years until he agreed to take him on.

Once his ambition had been fired, Paul chose his mentors carefully. He moved to the Connaught Hotel in London, where he became part of Michel Bourdin's brigade of 50 classic French cooks. Then he moved to Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons to work under the mercurial Raymond Blanc, an extreme contrast in style.

"I learnt the disciplines of the French kitchen from the Connaught. From Raymond Blanc I learnt a passion for fresh produce. It wasn't uncommon to be out in the vegetable garden digging up baby leeks and carrots at 8pm."

His aim was always to return to his native Lancashire, and his first job was head chef at Broughton Park near Preston, running a hotel kitchen at the age of 26. "I knew I wanted to buy my own place, so my idea was to learn the business and make links with local food suppliers."

He chose Longridge as the site for his restaurant for no other reason than that the two quarrymen's cottages in the centre of the village were going cheap. However, by the time he had converted them, he had spent pounds 250,000. "Nine days after we opened there was a gas leak and the kitchen went up in flames. I just put my head in my hands; I could have cried." Somehow, and he has no idea how, they managed to reopen 48 hours later.

In six years he has built up lines of food supply where none existed. He had worked with poulets de Bresse, quality French chickens, and so he persuaded Reg Johnson - a poultry farmer at Goosnargh, a few miles away - to produce corn-fed chickens. He encouraged a vegetable supplier, Eddie Holmes, to build up a business for "Queer Gear", as they call unusual veg in Preston market. He also buys plum tomatoes and kale grown by patients at Whitting-ham, the nearby mental institution.

Fish was initially a problem. "Fleetwood was on its knees," Paul says. "You could only get scallops swollen with water, and fish in an advanced state of rigor mortis." He met a haulier called Chris Neaves who shared his interest in quality, and now Neaves has become a leading fish supplier in the north-west.

Paul is a magnificent cook and inspires a loyal and intelligent team. As more and more praise is heaped upon him, his cooking goes from strength to strength. Last year he opened a second establishment, a super-modern brasserie in the heart of Preston. As a cook, Paul doesn't lack refinement, but he has a hearty style reminiscent of some great French chefs who retain links with their local origins. Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet spring to mind, from Gascony and south-west France respectively.

Perhaps there is more than a little leger-demain here. Is Paul Heathcote really drawing on local traditions, or is he creating an illusion? Or allusions. There are some nice little local references among the hors d'oeuvres, or amuse-gueules, served with drinks while you wait for the meal. Shepherd's pie, for example, a staple Tuesday or Wednesday family dish that uses up leftover mince and leftover mash. But here Paul serves one in miniature, in a tiny pastry shell, mince in gravy topped with fluffy mash, browned on top. Another little conceit is a coin-sized piece of toast piled with tiny Morecambe Bay shrimps, the prized local speciality.

Paul also features black pudding and pigs' trotters as main courses. Indeed, they are his "signature dishes". But the way that he has conceived and assembled them illustrates the thinking of the best modern British chefs. Take his black pudding of sweetbreads. It came about by chance. He was one of a group of Northern chefs invited to to cook in France, for the Krug family in the Champagne district. The organiser had produced a menu suggesting they should do foie gras, caviare truffles and so on.

"I said, 'That's a load of crap,'" recounts Paul. "'We should do black pudding.' Everyone laughed. But at the end, they asked me, 'What are you really going to cook, Paul?' 'Black pudding,' I said. I hadn't a clue how to make it. I rang up two or three butchers; I went to the slaughterhouse and bought a bag of blood. You cook it to 80 degrees to coagulate it and add chopped pork fat, onions, oatmeal, herbs, seasoning. I thought it was bloody horrible. I'd got myself into a corner. It was a nothing."

He couldn't back off. "So I thought, what is it that I've never liked about black pudding? I decided it was the fat. So I'd make it without the lumps of white fat."

He plumped up some sultanas, soaking them in white wine vinegar. Then he dried them out, putting them into the pudding mixture to give a sweet- sour taste. It was still a bit dull. He decided to provide texture with chopped sweetbreads (he has also used chopped cooked ham). He cooked the mixture in a bain-marie in the oven, rather than boiling it. Then he sliced it, brushed it with olive oil, and grilled it.

There's still more fiddling to come, for this is restaurant food. It was an interesting exercise for Paul (like a composer orchestrating a score) to create an appropriate setting. He chose a bed of crushed potatoes (boiled in their skins, crushed and forked with butter), tender haricot beans, cooked diced carrot, served with a sticky, rich veal stock sauce. This was the dish he took to Champagne, and a great stir it caused, too.

Paul is the most lateral of lateral thinkers. Having cracked the black pudding puzzle to his satisfaction, he was discussing it with his pal Terence Laybourne, chef-patron of 21 Queen Street, Newcastle. "Terence was asking if I'd ever heard of anything so barmy, black pudding sandwiches? I went home and thought about it. Why not do a black pudding bread?"

So when Paul rings the changes on his dinner breads, there will be a choice of milk roll; date and walnut loaf; sage, onion and cheese loaf; and a black pudding roll. It's a joke, really, a blob of his "black pudding" smeared into the bread dough. But it's very tasty.

His pigs' trotters are a tale in themselves. Everyone in Lancashire eats trotters; the head chef, Andrew Barnes, remembers his mother eating them roasted with a plate of chips. Paul roasts his too, then simmers them in stock for three hours, stuffs them and poaches them.

His bread and butter pudding ("I really used to hate it") is no less a trick of the chef's art, made with egg custard. His treacle tart is nothing like you got at school, but is made with buttery crumbs of egg- rich brioche.

This great illusionist's finest trick, in my book (the recipe we give here), is hotpot potatoes. Lancashire hotpot is a truly great national dish, but essentially a cheap one - a casserole of sliced potatoes and vegetables cooked with a cheap cut of lamb. The soggy potatoes soak up the lamb fat and brown nicely on top.

Paul reconstructed it. Instead of scrag end of lamb, he serves a slice of juicy rack of lamb. Instead of being baked in lamb fat, the potato slices are baked in butter. There's no added water; the potatoes steam in their own juices.

Professional chefs will recognise the cooking technique as that for the French classic pommes Anna. So it is, the Heathcote touch being the addition of a little grated carrot and onion and herbs for local flavour. The potatoes are baked like a cake, three inches deep in a lidded mould (you could use a cake tin), then baked for 45 minutes in a hot oven. The top caramelises to a crispy brown. It's not as rich as it sounds, as the butter runs off when you remove the "cake".

It is beautiful and succulent and, as a hotpot, it quite beggars belief. After I had wiped the last tasty morsel from my lips, I sensed the waiter watching me. In a guilty moment, I asked if he ever got to eat it. "Oh, yes," he said with pride. "Every Sunday. For staff lunch."

ROAST RACK OF SPRING LAMB WITH HOTPOT POTATOES

Serves 4

1kg/2lbs potatoes, sliced

2 carrots, sliced

250g/8oz butter, clarified (to make: see Kitchenalia, right)

1 onion, sliced

4 racks of lamb, 200-300g/7-10oz each

9 shallots, 1 finely diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 litre/134 pints lamb stock

50g/2oz Puy lentils

50g/2oz smoked streaky bacon, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

a selection of baby vegetables, to garnish

To make the hotpot potatoes: place the sliced potatoes and carrots in a bowl and pour over the clarified butter. Arrange three layers of potatoes in the bottom of a mould, then add a layer of carrots, then of onion, followed by another layer of potatoes. Season each layer. Cook in a pre- heated oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6 until crisp (1-114 hours). Remove and set aside.

To prepare the lamb: place the racks of lamb in the oven and roast at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. Place the eight whole shallots in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with the olive oil and roast until brown and tender.

Place half the lamb stock in a pan, add the lentils, bacon and diced shallot, bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Add water if necessary to prevent drying out. Set aside.

Pour the remaining lamb stock into another pan, add the rosemary and thyme, bring to the boil and reduce to a coating consistency (about 150ml/14 pint).

To serve: place a wedge of the hotpot potatoes at the top of each plate, cut the racks of lamb in half and place two cutlets on either side. Garnish with the braised lentils, baby vegetables and roasted shallots, and pour over the herb-scented lamb stock. !

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album