Northumberland Pan Haggerty is one of the simplest vegetable dishes in British cooking, but one of the best. It is a dish that tells a story of poverty and ingenuity, and also of the close links that Northumberland had and has with Scotland - the root of Haggerty is said to be the same as haggis , both derived from the French hache, meaning chopped.
In pit towns like Ashington and Bedlington Pan Haggerty was a cheap way to fill stomachs, but a tasty one to boot, and a dish that can be prepared on the most basic of cooking ranges. The ingredients are potatoes and cheese - Cheddar , Lancashire, Cheshire , anything that is meltable and hard enough to slice or grate - onions sliced a bit thicker, and seasoning, with some beef dripping or lard, or perhaps these days a mix of oil and butter.
A thick pan is greased with the chosen fat, melted and ready for cooking. The ingredients are placed in layers: potato, onion, cheese, with plenty of salt and pepper, a layer of potato being needed at the top as well as the bottom. The resulting cake is then fried carefully, until the bottom of the dish begins to brown and give off savoury smells. Traditionally the cake would then be inverted and the process continued until what had been the top was also browned, though these days a grill would be easier. The whole thing must be well cooked through - raw or semi-raw potatoes are not a pleasure.
Equally traditionally the Pan Haggerty should be eaten from the cooking vessel.
This dish of the industrial revolution has been gentrified in recent times, with versions including bacon, ham or sausage adding a bit of protein and luxury. And it has also been taken up by chefs, served as a delicious side dish for example with roasted meats.
Why this dish is not better known throughout the country is a mystery. Far more British cooks are likley to know how to make a French-style potato grattin, which after all is very similar in nature and ingredients, than Pan Haggerty, which is a commentary perehaps on our national culinery insecurity complex.
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