Potted meat and fish have been prepared for hundreds of years, preserving cooked flesh under a thick layer of butter or lard which kept out the air and gave a limited storage life in the days before refrigeration. Cheese was often prepared in this way too, and the method was invaluable for making the best of leftover food as well as for preserving larger quantities.
Potted fish and game were popular breakfast dishes, or taken for outdoor meals, and potted meat was a favourite part of a substantial tea, particularly in the Midlands and the North.
The food to be ‘potted’ was either cooked separately and then mixed with butter and seasonings before being sealed under a lid of fat, or it could be cooked slowly in fat which produced a richly flavoured mixture to be mashed and potted under the preservative layer of extra fat.
The best pots to use are small ones, as once the hard fat lid has been broken, the contents must be eaten quickly. Small china soufflé dishes or ramekins, pâté dishes or straight-sided glass jars are all suitable. The contents must be pressed down tightly to eliminate all air pockets and dishes should be filled very full, just leaving enough space for the layer of sealing fat to be poured on. This layer of fat must be thick enough to seal the food completely.
The meat or fish to be potted should be finely shredded or minced, and then mashed. An electric blender may be used, but only a little can be processed at a time. Without a blender, it is necessary to use a pestle and mortar, or a wooden spoon in a large bowl to mash the ingredients together. Seasoning is important for these foods. The main ingredient may already be salted, but freshly ground pepper is an essential addition. A little ground nutmeg and/or mace bring out the flavour of both meat and fish, and a little ground ginger may also be used. Anchovy essence is useful for potted fish, and a few drops improve the flavour of potted beef.
When the pots have been prepared, they should be stored in the refrigerator and should last up to 3 weeks; they may also be frozen and will last 12 months. Potted meat or fish may be served with hot toast, or fresh wholemeal bread or used as a sandwich filling. Potted fish in particular is good sliced to serve with salad. It is best to bring the potted product to room temperature before serving as the flavour will not be so good when chilled.
The most essential ingredient in potting is clarified butter, which is free from any foreign matter which might allow the fat to become rancid. The clarification process also drives out air and causes the butter to become very solid when it is cold. It is worth preparing a quantity of this butter because it is excellent for frying as it does not blacken and burn and has a good flavour.
© 1978 Mary Norwak estate. All rights reserved.