I’m sure I’ve professed the horrible affliction that is my attraction to anything British. TV, movies, automobiles, WWII era stuff – it’s all in there. I’m sure I should have been alive during WWII living in England somewhere. British food is less exciting, if only because it’s often fairly bland. It’s less exciting than their automobiles – the lead electrical supplier for automotive electrical equipment in Britain used to be Lucas Electrics. So disastrous is the reputation (deservedly so) for anything bearing the Lucas name - Lord Lucas is known as “The Prince of Darkness.”
Often in one TV show or another someone will reference bubble and squeak. Sounds a bit odd I know. I didn’t investigate until I watched an episode of Two Fat Ladies some time ago (it’s a cooking show and if you haven’t watched before it’s worth checking out.) As the title probably gives away – there are two ladies. And they are fat. They mentioned bubble and squeak and I figured if they brought it up – it’s got to be pretty good.
The earliest known recipe was by Maria Rundell in 1806. Bubble and squeak was popular during World War II, simply because it was an easy way of using leftovers during a period when most foods were subject to rationing. A fry up, they call it. And the British knew about rationing. The name comes from the bubble and squeak sounds made as it cooks. Pretty cool then. And it really does bubble and squeak. I checked.
So this is rather like some sort of potato hash sort of thing, using left overs. I didn’t have much in the way of leftovers, just some carrots I’d roasted and a fridge full of things I needed to use before they ended up in the trash.
There are a number of ways to address the potato portion of the recipe. They can be mashed, roasted, or fried. Almost anything works – that’s the key with this recipe. It’s a catch-all for veggie leftovers. And it’s always good. I can’t stop eating the one I just made.
I used Russets. And I baked them, sort of. Rather than baking them in the oven – which takes an hour or more – I figured it would save a lot of time to just bake them in the microwave. You can make a pretty decent baked potato in the microwave and given that I was going to be cooking them further it seemed like a time saver. I cleaned five medium-ish Russets, rubbed them with a bit of olive oil, poked each about eight times with a fork, sprinkled some sea salt on them, and put them in the microwave on a dish. Five of them took about 12 minutes to cook on high. I did it in three burst, five minutes, five minutes, and a further two, turning them in between each burst.
I diced one decent sized shallot and shredded one small head of cabbage – making sure to remove the outer layer of leaves and throwing away the inner core part and the stem. I used about twelve Brussels sprouts, again cutting off the bottom stems and removing the outer layer.
The cabbage gets boiled for no more than five minutes. At an absolute maximum – five minutes. Anymore and you’re in danger of that terrible sulfur smell. Cabbage turns quickly – don’t let it turn on you. Rinse it with cold water and drain. Set aside.
I steamed the Brussels sprouts whole for three to four minutes. You don’t want to over cook Brussels sprouts either. That’s the reason most people hate them. They get bitter when they’re over cooked. Most people over cook them. So don’t go there. After you’ve steamed them, rinse under cold water and give them a rough dice. Set them aside with the drained cabbage.
I had roasted some carrots the day before so I chopped those up and added them to my quickly rising pile of ingredients. While this was all going on I laid out four pieces of bacon in a pan and fried them about 75% cooked. You don’t want to go all the way because they’ll be going back into the pan later on. I kept the bacon grease in the pan and set them to dry on some paper towel. I didn’t have much in the way of grease left over afterward, odd as that may sound. I added a bit of butter to the pan before I moved on to counter that. Once drained a bit, crumble or chop them up, and set aside.
Bubble and squeak is supposed to be cooked with beef rendering. I didn’t have any beef to render, so that’s where the bacon came in. I added a bit of butter to the bottom of the pan (again because the bacon didn’t yield much if any actual grease) and added the shallots. Cook them until translucent – about 5 to 8 minutes should do it, over medium heat.
Now you’re ready to really make things happen. Add the roughly mashed potatoes, the cabbage, the Brussels sprouts, carrots, bacon, and anything else you’d like to add to the mix. Thoroughly stir everything together and then press the whole mess down into an even layer in the pan. The idea is to have it cook as a whole unitized mass – like a layer cake almost. A giant potato, cabbage, and bacon layer cake.
I used a medium heat – 5 maybe – on my stove. I let it cook for about ten minutes on one side, then I needed to flip it over. You can smell the brown potato when it needs to be flipped. But how do you flip it in one piece?? Great question. I used two plates. I put one plate on top of the pan then inverted it. It came right out in one piece. Then I grabbed another plate – and inverted it again. Now it’s facing the right way to flip it right back into the pan. I buttered the uncooked side with a few pats of butter, placed the pan upside down on top of the plate – and inverted the whole thing again. Back into the pan, cooked side up – buttered side down – all in one piece. Nice!
Another eight to ten minutes on the other side and it’s ready to serve. And yes – it really does bubble and squeak. I did check. Multiple times. And I announced it like my other half would actually care. He did not.
You can have this as its own meal. It was also suggested that this goes really well with eggs. I’ll take even the flimsiest excuse to have breakfast anytime. So eggs it was. I made some toast, fried up two eggs, and sliced out two big helpings of bubble and squeak. I went back for more bubble and squeak. I’m eating yet more of it right now as I write this. There is almost none left. I will make this again. And again. I may decide to live off it. It’s that good. No really. I had no idea what I was missing. Perhaps I’ll have to give Spotted Dick a go (another of the “threatened puddings.”)
For a large pan full of bubble and squeak – certainly enough for four people if you’re not being greedy (I can’t see how that would happen though) or enough for two rational people who can’t stop stuffing their mouths full you’ll need the following:
- 5 Medium Sized Russet Potatoes – Baked and Mashed
- 3 Tablespoons of Butter – For Mashing Potatoes
- 1/4 Cup Cream or Milk – For Mashing Potatoes
- Salt to Taste
- 1 Small Head of Cabbage – Shredded and Boiled
- 10+ Brussels Sprouts – Steamed and Diced
- 1 Shallot – Diced
- 2 Tablespoons of Butter – For Frying
- 4 Slices of Bacon – Fried and Crumbled – (Reserve Grease for Frying)
- Additional Veggies Should You Choose (I used 5 previously roasted carrots)
Serving Suggestions – You could easily have this by itself – it will certainly stand up to that. I made two eggs for each of us and two slices of toast and it was absolutely delightful as a dinner. It’d make a hearty breakfast as well. I’m still gushing about this hours later. I can’t get enough. It will be gone before much longer and then I’ll have to think about making it again. You can also add pretty much whatever you like to it. That’s the idea and the beauty behind it. Parsnips, corn, sweet potato, really anything could go along. This is a basic recipe and should be viewed as a jumping off point. The possibilities are endless and quite tasty. If you wanted to go vegetarian you could easily delete the bacon and substitute olive oil as the fat. I’m sure it would still be mighty tasty.