Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Black Country Hot Pot

     English Black Country Comfort Food!
     England's Black Country has a long history of heavy industrial and coal mining.  The Black Country got its name from a huge seam of coal that is exposed on the surface of the earth and the ensuing coal industry pollution.  Because of the coal dust and soot, the local landscape in this region once looked like shades of black and gray.  Some English folks that I have chatted with say that the Black Country still looks dark gray to this day.  
     Black Country Hot Pot is a great example of English comfort food.  This recipe is very simple, yet it takes a very long time to cook.  Black Country Hot Pot is a great winter entrée that is guaranteed to warm up a cold tired coal miner!        

     Inedible Salt Dough:
     This recipe yields about 1 2/3 cups of salt dough.  This is enough for 2 to 3 individual portion size Black Country Hot Pots.
     It is traditional to use this inedible salt dough to make holiday ornaments too.
     Step 1:  Combine these dry ingredients:
     - 1 cup of flour
     - 1/2 cup of salt
     Step 2:  Slowly add 1 teaspoon of water at a time, while kneading, till a pliable stiff firm salt dough forms.
     Knead the dough, till it is smooth like clay.
     Step 3:  Place the salt dough in a sealed container and set it aside.

     Black Country Hot Pot:
     This recipe yields 1 individual portion.
     Black Country Hot Pot requires 24 to 48 hours of slow baking time at a low temperature!  When baked for 24 hours, the meat is tender yet it is still chunky.  When baked for 48 hour, the beef becomes very mushy and the leeks will completely liquify.  Many Black Country Hot Pot fans prefer the extra long baking time version. 
     There are no exact measurements for this recipe other than the beef and leek proportion.  The idea is to place as much beef and leeks into the ceramic soufflé ramekin or crock as possible.
     For an authentic Black Country Hot Pot, do not season the beef and leeks with salt, pepper or any herbs!
     Step 1:  Select an 8 ounce to 10 ounce capacity ceramic soufflé ramekin or ceramic crock.  
     Fill the ceramic ramekin with this proportion:
     - 50% raw beef shoulder stewing meat that cut into bite size cubes.
     - 50% thick sliced washed leeks.
     *The ramekin must be completely filled to the top with beef and leeks.  Do not firmly press the mixture in place or there will be no room for the water!
     Step 2:  Add enough water, so the liquid is almost as high as the rim of the ramekin.
     Step 3:  Use a rolling pin to make a sheet of inedible salt dough that is 3/16" thick.
     Cut a round salt dough shape that is 1" wider than the rim of the ceramic ramekin.
     Step 4:  Drape the round sheet of salt dough over the ramekin.
     Use a pastry brush to spread water on the salt dough where it will make contact with the outside of the ramekin.  (This step will cause the salt dough to stick to the crock when the dough is pressed in place.)
     Firmly press the salt dough against the outside of the ramekin and completely seal the ingredients inside.  The ingredients must be sealed air tight.
     Step 5:  Use some of the excess dough trimmings to decorate the salt dough cap.  (I made the one in the photos look like a sea biscuit or sand dollar design.)
     Step 6:  Bake the sealed crock in a 180ºF oven for 24 hours for a chunky style Hot Pot.  Or bake in 165ºF for 48 hours for an extra soft savory Hot Pot.
     Step 7:  When the hot pot is done baking, remove it from the oven and set it on a serving plate.
     Crack the edge of the dough carefully by prying or striking it with the back of a knife.
     Pop the rock hard salt dough seal off of the crock dish.  (Do not eat the inedible salt dough!)
     Stir the beef and leeks with a spoon.
     The Black Country Hot Pot is now ready to eat!
     Black Country Hot Pot needs no seasoning or herbs.  The extra slow cooked savory leek and beef flavor is satisfying beyond belief!

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