"As kitchen recycling goes, this is probably the most useful of all, neatly dispensing with those most difficult of leftovers." Nigel Slater
For some reason, last night at our neighbourhood Christmas party I found myself talking about bubble and squeak with a couple of friends. I think we had been talking about Christmas food and what we were each doing for Christmas this year. And eventually we got on to the leftovers problem - hence bubble and squeak - at which point I learnt from the Irish one of our number that they didn't do bubble and squeak in Ireland. Big surprise to me considering how Ireland loves its potatoes. "Well I suppose you have colcannon" I said, to which she laughingly agreed. We also meandered around cabbage or brussels sprouts, and other such things, so, yes - here I am looking at bubble and squeak.
The first question of course - that we all asked last night - is where does the name come from? Well apparently from the noise it makes as it cooks.
"Bubble and Squeak, beef and cabbage fried together. It is so called from its bubbling up and squeaking whilst over the fire." Francis Grose - Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785
Which is confirmed by The Oxford English Dictionary. And did you notice 'beef and cabbage fried together''? Because that's not what bubble and squeak is today. The basic mix is potato and cabbage, but, of course, there are variations - which I shall come to in due course. But to confirm the above definition here is the first known recipe in Mrs. Rundell's cookbook of 1806 :
As a dish it probably existed long before that time, but nobody had bothered to write it down. Especially if it was generally made with leftovers.
Potatoes didn't appear until the 1880s and the whole thing did not really evolve into its modern incarnation they think until WW2 when rationing meant that there was very little meat around. However, there may well have been a transition period when there was meat and potatoes in the mix. But there was always cabbage - as demonstrated from a passage in Wind in the Willows, written before both world wars, when the gaoler's daughter takes pity on Toad who is in prison, and brings him some of her dinner:
“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." The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Fragrance. Not the word we generally associate with the smell of cabbage.
Then again should it be cabbage or Brussels sprouts? I confess my own memory of bubble and squeak, which I loved, was of Brussels sprouts and potatoes. Definitely no meat. And that was the way for a few generations, although today, as we shall see, meat is sometimes creeping back in. Although probably not if the vegetarians have their way.
My friends and I were talking about Christmas leftovers, and when I started 'researching' the subject I did indeed find many of my British cooks referring to it as a Christmas dish. Indeed a star amongst the many stars of Christmas food:
"I'm sure I'm not alone in relishing the prospect of Boxing Day leftovers, perhaps even more than the big Christmas spread itself. There's something about the cold meat sitting in its savoury, jellied juices, the scraps of stuffing and sauce and gravy all mingled together and the shreds of well-seasoned veg ready to be turned hot and crisp in a frying pan that reach unique heights of on-the-hoof, low-effort deliciousness." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
"And then there were the crumbs. If I am honest, I love this moment as much, if not more, than the Christmas Day feast itself. The bits left behind. The ragged lumps of cold roast bird pulled from the bones; the last caramelised parsnip prized from the roasting tin; a tiny helping of cold roast potatoes to wolf from the fridge at midnight." Nigel Slater
Having just bought an enormous turkey for our relatively small gathering this Christmas I feel a bit the same way about stuffing and turkey. There are so many good things you can make with all those leftovers. It's a stimulus to one's imagination.
Why an enormous turkey? Well David has conferred with various Woolworths staff after seeing a very small number of turkeys in the meat section, and no ham, and was told that whilst some more frozen turkey was coming (I think it was the frozen kind), there was no more ham. Panic. So today I went to Coles and bought the only large turkey there was - just to allay his panic, because I'm sure there will be more.
Some of those Christmas leftovers would indeed end up as bubble and squeak in my household, which is why I remember it being made with Brussels sprouts. Delia seems to agree with this idea.
"In theory this should be made with leftover sprouts, and at any other time it is, but at Christmas we never seem to have enough left over, so we just cook some more." Delia Smith
However, really I think it is a traditional leftover roast dinner dish and so sometimes the Brussels sprouts might be cabbage. And the potatoes were leftover roasted ones, that were crushed rather than mashed. I don't think we ever made it from scratch in our house, although, of course, you can.
So how is it made? Well let's start with the traditional - and you can't get more traditional than Delia or Jamie really. Delia has two traditional recipes: Old-fashioned bubble and squeak (alas, no picture) and Brussels bubble and squeak - Delia Smith, whilst Jamie has a couple as well - Bubble and squeak and Veggie bubble and squeak although his vary only very slightly. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offers Squeak and bubble - reversing the name because there is more emphasis on the greens than the potatoes, and he also suggest variations such as the addition of curry powder. Incidentally they all seem to disagree slightly on the proportion of potatoes and greens - 50/50; 60/40; 40/60 and so on. Probably it really depends on what you've got if you are using leftovers.
Delia's doesn't look that appetising does it but then maybe looks aren't everything:
In the cockney cafés they call this ‘bubble’, and serve it alongside eggs for breakfast. Because it often sits in the pan for ages getting dark and crispy, it tends to take on a fairly dark grey and rather ugly colour, but ironically, those are often the tastiest bubble and squeaks of all. ” Jamie Oliver
The fried egg on top is common - we used to do that. The yolk oozing into the bubble and squeak below was - well - perfect.
But this is the twenty twenties and so we fiddle. First let's stick to the mix it all up and throw it in the pan variety. The difference here is what you throw in the pan. I guess the quintessential 'today' version is Nigel Slater's Sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak such modern ingredients, although all along, all of these cooks encourage you to use other kinds of greens, and obviously kale is one of those. Not so many of them vary the potatoes though. Nigella adds a touch of chilli, chestnuts and pancetta for her Christmas bubble and squeak.
Another simple way of fiddling is simply to make small cakes of the bubble and squeak rather than one big one - neat and round as in the pictures above or more haphazard as our home-made ones were - but large rather than small. It's probably easier to make these look attractive.
The small cake or fritter versions vary in their complexity - Bubble and squeak rösti from Delia, Spring bubble and squeak from Nigel who also offers Bubble and squeak fritters; Merguez bubble and squeak from Yotam Ottolenghi - there's meat in this one; Bubble and squeak cakes with smoked salmon and creme fraiche from Felicity Cloake - almost a posh canapé this one and Bubble and squeak croquettes from Taste
Whilst we are still on the fritter/cake concept have a look at this short video in which Heston mades a really posh - though surprisingly simple version - as long as you have one of those deep ring things to make this sort of thing look perfectly round. Poached egg of course, not fried.
Then there are the outliers which barely qualify really: Bubble and squeak frittata from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (alas no picture) and it should be noted that long ago he published a recipe for fish bubble and squeak; Bubble and squeak potato hash omelettes in similar vein really from a frittata, from delicious. and the really weird one - Bubble and squeak soup also from delicious.
Bubble and squeak - a wonderful thing, and something I haven't made for simply ages. Maybe this Christmas if there are enough potatoes and brussels sprouts left over. Because I really think it should be made from leftovers and not from fresh ingredients.
And now I'm going to do that other leftover favourite - Shepherd's pie - from the leftover roast lamb.
“I’ve always liked making this, since I was a kid. We’d have the pan going for well over an hour, slowly turning those precious leftovers into an incredible pile of gnarly, starchy, veggie gorgeousness. Good bubble & squeak is hard to beat. ” Jamie Oliver