A taste of home – Lobby!

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October 30, 2013 by cucchiano

So, this is my first post in my new food blog.  I’m hoping that keeping it simple is a good starting point.  This is a recipe that is easy to make, tasty and wholesome.  No real skill is required beyond some chopping.

Having grown up in the Midlands this is a traditional dish that is served locally – I have never seen it outside the Potteries.  I had never tried it until a few years ago although had regularly seen it sold in local cafes.  My husband’s family grew up in the Potteries and this was a staple meal in their, and his, childhood.  For many years I foolishly fell out of love with red meat, but that’s another story.   However, after a notable absence I returned to red meat about three years ago.  My husband insisted that the momentous event should be celebrated with my father-in-law’s Lobby.  I was converted!

I’m told that Lobby’s origins lie in amongst the terraces of Stoke-on-Trent and the pot banks where housewives used cheaper cuts of meat and whatever vegetables were to hand to make the household budget go further.  As times have been tough it’s a recipe I have repeatedly turned to it in order to create a cheap and nutritious meal that is minimum effort.  It is not a glamorous dish but it was never intended to be.  It does however make a comforting and homely dish that will easily feed a hungry family with leftovers to spare.  You can easily double up the quantities to feed more people if needs be.

The recipe is my family’s version but you can really use any vegetables you have going spare. That is after all the point.  I would say the bare essentials are the barley, the potato and the gravy.  Beef is clearly important but my father-in-law has produced a spectacular vegetarian version omitting meat altogether and adding more vegetables.  The sweet potato is my mother-in-law’s adaptation.  It’s not traditional but the sweet potato makes it for me – it brings a real sweetness to the flavour and also helps to thicken the gravy.

My only word of warning is to keep the potato and sweet potato chunks relatively large so that they don’t melt away into the sauce.  You want their presence to be felt!  I’ve never found it necessary to thicken the sauce as the barley and the potatoes do that job for you.  Seasoning is also key:  continually tasting and checking the gravy ensures a good gravy rather than a watery, flavourless disaster.

I’ve also had resounding success doing this in the slow cooker.  Brown the meat in a pan first and then throw the all the ingredients, except the pearl barley, into the slow cooker and cook on low for about 6-8 hours.  About 30 minutes before serving throw in the barley which should be sufficient time for the grains to cook and inflate!  If you put them in at the beginning they just disappear, presumably exploding into the gravy.

Finally, my only other observation is that Lobby, like so many great recipes, has the added benefit of tasting even better the next day.  I regularly make this on the day but if you have the time and the inclination the flavours combine perfectly when left to cool for some time and the Lobby is later gently reheated.

And so…. I give you Lobby.

500grams braising steak (or other stewing beef)

2 carrots (peeled and chopped into chunks)

2 onions (peeled and chopped into chunks)

2 sticks of celery chopped (leafy tops lopped off)

3 or 4 small potatoes – no need to peel if you can’t be bothered (chopped into large chunks)

2 medium sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped into large chunks)

2 cloves garlic (Crushed in a garlic press or finely chopped)

1 generous handful of pearl barley

2 beef stock cubes (OXO works bests I find)

Salt and Pepper to season

Crusty bread & butter to serve

  1. Fry the beef in a large casserole dish until browned.  Season the beef with salt and pepper as it sizzles.
  2. Add the celery, carrots and onions and stir to combine with the beef.  Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.
  3. Add the garlic, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
  4. Crumble in the stock cubes and then add about 2 pints of water so that the meat and vegetables are just about covered but not drowned.  You can always add more later.
  5. Combine so that the stock, meat and vegetables are bobbing happily in the gravy.  Season again to taste and turn the heat down as low as you can.  Put the lid on the casserole dish and leave to simmer for a few hours (at least an 1 ½ hrs) but preferably 2 ½ hrs so that the meat has time to absorb all of the flavours.  Stir occasionally but gently so as not to break up the potatoes as they cook.  If needed add more water to the pot if some of the liquid has evaporated.
  6. About half an hour before serving throw in the pearl barley and allow it to inflate in the stock.
  7. Serve with crusty bread slathered with butter.
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