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Melodious answer to leftovers: Bubble and Squeak

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's time to get back into the eccentric territory of English cuisine. This time, I have a dish born of frugality, a way to use up the leftover Sunday roast beef.

The recipe in question is called Bubble and Squeak, a reference to the sound it makes while being cooked. It's basically leftover beef, cooked up with cabbage and potatoes. This was something that frequently turned up in my childhood, provided there was any beef left after the meal- not always guaranteed.

In 1753, a Georgian wag by the name of Christopher Smart wrote the first published recipe for bubble and squeak under the pseudonym of Mary Midnight, which was published in “The Mid-Wife; or, the old woman's magazine.” As we can see, it really wasn't meant to be taken that seriously:

“LECTURE IN COOKERY. Lecture the first. Which contains the Art of making BUBBLE AND SQUEAK for Supper. Published at the Request of the Gentlemen of both Universities. Take of Beef, Mutton, or Lamb, or Veal, or any other Meat, two Pounds and an half, or any other Quantity; let it lay in Salt, till the saline Particles have lock'd up all the Juices of the Animal, and render'd the Fibres too hard to be digested; then boil it over a Turf or Peat Fire, in a Brass Kettle cover'd with a Copper Lid, till it is much done. Then take Cabbage (that which is most windy, and capable of producing the greatest Report) and boil it in a Bell-Metal Pot till it is done enough, or if you think proper, till it is done too much. Then slice the Beef, and souse that and the Cabbage both in a Frying-Pan together, and let it bubble and squeak over a Charcoal Fire, for half an Hour, three Minutes, and two Seconds. Then eat a Quantum sufficit, or two Pounds and a half, and after it drink sixteen Pints of fat Ale, smoak, sleep, snoar, belch, and forget your Book.”

Sixteen pints of ale? Good God. In 1773, “The Lady's Assistant,” by Charlotte Mason, made its appearance. Her recipe was slightly more reasonable. Humble as this dish was, it did have its adherents, including George IV, who was introduced to it by Sir Robert Leighton in Shropshire:

“Sir Robert, being a bachelor, was unused to giving so large a dinner as this occasion called for; and his cook, being rather at a loss to fill all the numerous side-dishes required, decided on fried beef and cabbage for one of them. 'What have you got in that dish?' said the prince to a gentleman before it happened to be placed. 'That sir,' answered Sir Robert, 'is a favourite dish in Shropshire, called bubble and squeak.' 'Then give me some bubble and squeak,' resumed the prince; and he ate heartily of it. Thus far I can vouch for what I have said; but it was currently reported that this homely dish was afterwards frequently seen at Carlton House.”

Even the famed British gourmand Lord Kitchener put his opinion onto this frugal meal. Kitchener was a stickler for punctuality, and any dining guests who appeared at his door a minute after 5 p.m. would find the door locked against them. Here is his recipe, published in 1817:

“For this, as for hash, select those parts of the joint that have been least done; it is generally made with slices of cold, boiled, salt beef, and just lightly browned with a little butter in the frying pan; if it is fried too hard it will be hard. Boil a cabbage, squeeze it quite dry, and chop it small; take the beef out of the frying pan, and lay the cabbage in it; sprinkle a little pepper and salt over it; keep the pan moving over the fire for a few minutes; lay the cabbage in the middle of the dish and the meat around it.”

Of course, the deprivations of the two World Wars meant that beef was in short supply in the British Isles. Consequently, modern versions of the dish tended to omit it altogether. Bubble and squeak kind of morphed into a vegetable dish, with potatoes and cabbage cooked either in beef drippings or bacon fat.

So, this isn't exactly a fancy dish, even though it was enjoyed by the Prince of Wales. It's basically a way to use up leftover beef, and any cabbage and potatoes you might find in the fridge. Also, when you cook it, it will provide you with a lovely melody.


Makes 4 servings.

3-4 potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed roughly

1 small head cabbage, cooked and chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

3-4 Tbsp. butter, oil or bacon fat

1 onion, chopped

Leftover roast beef, preferably rare

Mix potatoes and cabbage together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Heat butter, oil or bacon fat in a heavy skillet over medium-high flame. Saute onion until translucent.

Stir in potato-cabbage mixture and press down into skillet. Reduce heat to medium and cook undisturbed until bottom is browned, about 10 minutes. Then turn potatoes to brown on the other side.

Serve hot with bacon and eggs or with cold, sliced roast beef as part of an evening meal.

Eric Stanway can be reached at Collections of these recipes can be found in the books “History on a Plate” and “Another Course,” available at and all good bookshops.

Content provided by Encore, The Telegraph’s arts and entertainment, food and wine section. Editor Kathleen Palmer can be reached at 594-6403 or Also, follow her on Twitter (@Telegraph_KathP or @NHFoodandFun).
Copyright © The Telegraph, All Rights Reserved, Used by permission.


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