Bubble and squeak

Update, Jan 2009: Gordon Brown has just announced that bubble and squeak (or, specifically, rumbledethumps, the Scottish name for the dish) is his favourite meal. I’ve gone right off the stuff.

I mentioned to a group of friends from America that I was planning on cooking bubble and squeak for supper. They all chorused: “What the hell?” One said that the name suggested the boiling of mice. I suspect that this is one of those recipes which needs a short introduction.

Bubble and squeak is a traditional English supper dish made from the leftovers of a roast dinner. It should always contain potatoes and a brassica (I like spring cabbage for its sweetness, but other, more robust cabbages are often used, and some people like – gulp – Brussels sprouts). There is usually some meat – often whatever you roasted the night before, sometimes anointed with a little gravy. The idea is that first the potatoes and cabbage will have been boiled (bubble), and that when packed down hard into a sauté pan, the mixture should squeak.

What I cooked strayed pretty far from tradition – I didn’t used leftover boiled potatoes, but grated some raw ones, rosti-style. I didn’t have any leftovers from a roast, so I used some lovely smoky lardons of bacon and a dollop of beef dripping – a fat you can buy from your butcher in tubs and should always have in your fridge. Along with some sweet cabbage, spring onions and plenty of pepper and nutmeg, you’ve got a panful of fried English goodness fit for the Queen.

To serve four as an accompaniment for some good sausages, you’ll need:

6 medium potatoes
1 sweetheart cabbage
10 large spring onions (scallions)
150g smoked bacon lardons
2 tablespoons beef dripping
A generous grating of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

A note here – if you’re using leftover boiled potatoes, just mash them roughly into chunky bits with a fork before starting, rather than grating and squeezing them, and reduce the cooking time by five minutes on each side.

Put the lardons in a dry frying pan and cook over a medium temperature, turning occasionally, until golden (about ten minutes). Set aside.

Grate the potatoes. You don’t need to peel them first. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to use the grating blade on your food processor. Take handfuls of the grated potato and squeeze it hard over the kitchen sink. A lot of liquid will be forced out. Put the squeezed potato shreds in your largest mixing bowl and fluff them up with your fingers so they’re not in squeezed blocks any more – this will make mixing the other ingredients with them easier later on.

Shred the cabbage finely (a bread knife is, for some reason, much easier to shred a cabbage with than a cook’s knife). Shred the spring onions finely too. Use your hands to mix the cabbage, spring onions and lardons thoroughly with the potato, adding about a teaspoon of salt, a generous grating of nutmeg and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Heat a tablespoon of dripping in a large, non-stick frying pan over a high flame until it begins to shimmer. Pile the bubble and squeak mixture into the pan and use a spatula to push the mixture into a rosti-like patty, packing it down hard into the edges of the pan. Lower the flame to medium/low, and leave to cook for 20 minutes.

When 20 minutes are up, you’ll notice that the vegetables on the top surface of the bubble and squeak are turning translucent. Put a large plate on top of the frying pan and turn the whole arrangement upside-down, so the bubble and squeak turns out neatly onto the plate. Turn the heat back up, add the remaining tablespoon of dripping and, when it is shimmering, slide the bubble and squeak back into the pan, uncooked side down, turn the heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with some good butchers’ sausages and some apple sauce, preferably while wearing a bowler hat or other symbol of Britishness.

4 Replies to “Bubble and squeak”

  1. Bubble and squeak is one of the best things, for me, about Christmas. Squished roasted potatoes and yes – sprouts! – and sometimes some carrot, fried in goose fat and served with ketchup, branston pickle and some sliced leftover ham or turkey or goose. Heaven!

  2. Bubble and squeak: fantastic! I must confess to enjoying the sprout version when I was small, though the sprouts have to be shredded up: lumpy sproutness would not have been a pleasant addition.

    Incidentally, my favourite bubble and squeak reference must be this one, from The Wind in the Willows:

    “It was bubble-and-squeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled the narrow cell. The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of Toad as he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor, and gave him the idea for a moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate thing as he had imagined”.

    Poor, reprobate Mr Toad enjoyed that bubble and squeak so much…

  3. It’s not as nice as champ.

    You must excuse me, if you know the right spuds (and are sufficiently hungry) it is the business.

    Scallions and more butter and full cream milk than is good for you rule.

  4. Lizzie – you remind me that this year I really ought to do a turkey recipe for either Christmas or Thanksgiving. I’ve been putting it off for years – not my favourite roast, but I’m sure that with a bit of effort I can come up with something that doesn’t result in the usual plywood-dry breast meat.

    Lorna – I went straight off TOTH when I discovered that Graeme based Mr Toad on the character of his son, whom he didn’t like very much. Although I *did* play a carol-singing dormouse in a school production of same once. Happy days.

    Garfer – I’m sure Lorna’s young man, who is Irish and fond of carbs from the old country, would agree with you. You should correspond. Personally, I’m a bubble and squeak woman.

    Uphill – hurrah!

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