Bubble and squeak is one of my favorite left-over foods. It’s difficult to give a recipe for it as you just have to use whatever vegetables you have leftover from a nice roast dinner. It turns out it didn’t begin life as fried mashed potato patties, but as something quite different. In The complete economical cook, and frugal housewife: an entirely new system, Mary Holland – in 1837 – describes a recipe that makes use of leftover boiled beef, not potatoes. The beef should be thinly sliced and fried up with chopped boiled cabbage in butter and some salt and pepper. This recipe goes back as far as the mid-eighteenth century. Indeed recipes for it in this form run right up the mid-twentieth century. It cannot be a coincidence that the dish went from beef-based to potato-based at around the same time as the Second World War and rationing.
Well, here is my recipe for the more familiar – and surprisingly modern – bubble and squeak. It’s hard to give amounts as it is just left-overs:
You have to use some mashed potato as a base and then stir or mash in leftover boiled cabage, broccoli, carrots or whatever you have. I would say that you should keep the ratio of potatoes to vegetables at least 1:1.Though it is very delicious if all you have left is mashed potato (in my house growing up, we often had fried mashed potato sandwiches with brown sauce!).
If you like, you can stir in an egg; this is especially useful if the potato is dry and difficult to form. Season with salt and pepper.
Get some fat nice and hot in a frying pan. It is extremely important that you use an animal fat such as lard. I like to fry some bacon in the pan first and then use the fat to fry the bubble and squeak in.
You can add your mixture in a single layer or as separate patties. You don’t need any flour to help seal it as it will burn. Instead, add your mix and press it down firmly and then leave it undisturbed for at least 5 minutes. When a nice crust has formed, use a spatula to turn it over. Do this in parts – there’s no way you’ll be able to turn it in one piece.
When both sides have achieved a nice dark-brown crust, it is ready to serve up. I like it with bacon, poached eggs and a good dash of Worcestershire sauce.
The name of the dish comes from the noise it makes in the pan as it cooks – the super-hot and densely-packed vegetables create pressure that’s let out through any gaps. If you didn’t use animal fats, you can’t achieve the high temperatures that give you the bubbles and the squeaks, plus the crust isn’t quite as burnt and satisfying.