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Lekker Brekker Monday: Bubble and Squeak

Lekker Brekker Monday: Bubble and Squeak
Tony Jackman’s Bubble and Squeak. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Bubble and Squeak is an English peasant dish that has been popular since the 1700s. It is named after the sound cabbage and mashed potatoes make when simmered together in a frying pan. But there’s more to its history than that.

Bubble and Squeak is one of those recipes for which you don’t really need a recipe. The entire point of it is that it is a way of using leftover mashed potato and cabbage. But its origins are somewhat different from the contemporary dish.

If we’re wondering about quantities, the amounts we want are precisely how much potato and cabbage you have leftover from last night’s supper. That’s how much.

Having said that, you can add other things. Some chopped onion, first fried and then added to the mix. Some bits of bacon, also fried first and stirred in.

You don’t add flour, because that would turn it into a potato and cabbage patty, although some recipes such as Delia Sainsbury’s call for a spoonful of flour. I wouldn’t. You don’t add raw egg, for similar reasons, even though that would help to turn the result into something more manageable in the pan.

Bubble and Squeak is not a thing of perfection. It shapes and holds together as best it can. The best you can hope for is to shape it into something resembling a shape on the plate, if you want to be fussy about all that. I did that so that I could turn out a reasonable-looking picture of it. But there’s really no need.

Bubble and squeak is a very old dish which is sometimes referred to as being from the “peasant” canon of simple cooking that has its roots in the poorer “classes”, to use the old-fashioned term. It’s even been referred to as “one of the great peasant dishes of the world”.

It first appeared in the 18th century and in its first iterations there was no potato at all, its constituents being cabbage and beef. Apparently, just as happens when mashed potato cooks with cabbage, the same applied to cabbage and beef. A couplet from the 19th century went:

When ‘midst the frying Pan in accents savage,

The Beef, so surly, quarrels with the Cabbage

I find it interesting to learn that it used to be made with beef, because my Yorkshire mother, who cooked Bubble and Squeak for us whenever there were those items left over, sometimes included shredded corned beef in it. This makes it more of a hash. (She also sometimes made corned beef hash, with that and potato, and no cabbage. So, perhaps unwittingly, in a sense she was then making the original Bubble and Squeak.)

For my recipe, I included both onion and bacon. Or you could serve fried bacon rashers alongside. You can even add a fried egg, on top, with the runny yolk oozing over the golden brown top of the Bubble and Squeak.

(Makes a standard frying pan of Bubble and Squeak)

Ingredients

2 or 3 cups of cold mashed potato

2 or 3 cups of cold, cooked shredded cabbage

1 small onion, chopped (optional)

3 rashers of bacon, chopped and fried (optional)

⅓ cup butter, melted

Salt

White pepper

More butter for frying

Method

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix the mashed potato and cabbage together. Add the melted butter, salt and white pepper, and stir again.

Add the cooked onions and/or bacon if using, and stir again.

Melt butter in a heavy frying pan.

Now, one issue with Bubble and Squeak is that it’s not easy to turn it over if it is filling an entire pan. You could use a second (greased) pan of similar size and turn it over out of the first into the second.

Or you could shape the mixture into three or four clumps, round them out with your palms, and drop those into the melted butter in the pan, pressing them down to flatten them. Then turn them after about 8 minutes for the other side to cook.

Whether or not your efforts turn out neatly, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to taste just great whatever the result looks like.

I recommend enjoying it with a soft-yolk fried egg on top. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed on a pan plate by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dee Bee says:

    Bubble and squeak! Haven’t had it in years. My mum used to cook it in the dripping that she collected from the various meat dishes cooked over the course of the week, and often served on fried bread, fried in the dripping as well. The dripping was kept in one of those enamel pots we all grew up with. Brilliant memories!

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