If you’re unfamiliar with bubble and squeak, food is probably not the first thing you’d think of from the name. But this traditional British dish is the perfect way to use leftover vegetables and so easy, comforting and delicious, it’s one to get to know!
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Even as a Brit, I found many British foods had strange names when I was growing up. Spotted dick, toad in the hole and Yorkshire pudding (which is savory), to name a few, all seemed oddly unrelated to what they actually were. Then there was bubble and squeak, too.
It isn’t a dish I grew up with, as it’s more English and seen less in Scotland. However it’s one I have come to appreciate.
What is bubble and squeak?
The origins of the name are unclear, and the exact ingredients of this dish can vary greatly as well. Some believe the name “bubble and squeak” comes from the bubbling up and noise as the vegetables are cooking over the fire. It’s probably as good an explanation as any!
However what is clear, is that this dish is fried leftover vegetables. It is typically a way of using leftovers after a traditional Sunday roast dinner, or Christmas dinner. Since both of these would pretty much always include potatoes, that’s the one ingredient that is consistent.
Mashed potato acts as the ‘glue’ for the other ingredients. Those can be cooked cabbage, Brussels sprouts or sometimes carrots and/or peas. Many versions add some meat as well, whether that’s leftover roast or some bacon cooked in the pan before you add the rest.
Personally I’m a big fan of bacon in there both for the little bit of meatiness, as well as the flavor that really spreads through the dish.
What distinguishes bubble and squeak?
There are, of course, many ways to use leftover vegetables, and so you may be wondering what makes this dish special. Especially since I say that there are a number of variations in the ingredients.
The answer is that in bubble and squeak, the vegetables are always fried. Then, you need to leave things alone to cook long enough to get a bit browned and crispy. Don’t be too quick to turn it, you want to get nice crispy bits in there.
In many cases, you make this as one large cake in a small to medium skillet, but you can also make smaller patties. If you cook it all as one, you typically stir things as you go to warm it all through before then pressing it down to crisp up on the bottom. If you form patties, you leave them so they don’t fall apart then flip once browned.
Other similar dishes from the region
In case you are thinking this dish looks a bit familiar, just not with this name, that’s quite possible. This dish is very typical in England, but is similar to other dishes popular in Ireland and Scotland.
Probably the best known is colcannon from Ireland, which is a popular side to corned beef for a St Patrick’s Day meal, particularly in the United States. It is still relatively popular in Ireland, again particularly as a way to use up leftovers. Colcannon is made with mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale, as well as typically leeks, but unlike bubble and squeak, it’s much creamier in texture.
The Scottish dish most like this is called rumbledethumps, again made with mashed potatoes and usually cabbage or kale and onion. Swede can also be added, which is a common vegetable in Scotland (although less popular now). Rumbledethumps is generally made as a casserole so that the top crisps up.
Another popular ways to use leftover potatoes are to make potato pancakes/scones or potato farl as they are known in Scotland. These make a great component to a traditional fried breakfast (alongside bacon, sausages, fried tomato and egg).
When would you typically eat bubble and squeak?
This dish can be served as a hearty breakfast, often topped with an egg. Alternatively, it can be a main meal in itself or served as a side to some leftover roast meat.
Since a roast dinner (often involving roast beef or lamb alongside roast or mashed potatoes and other vegetables) is common on Sundays in England, this dish was a classic Monday meal. It’s also something many associate with Boxing Day to use up leftover Christmas dinner.
In the UK, a traditional Christmas meal is very similar to an American Thanksgiving meal. You typically serve turkey with potatoes, most commonly roasted, one or more stuffings and Brussels sprouts.
Bubble and squeak is a tasty, hearty dish that’s a great way to use up leftovers. It’s also so versatile in when you serve it and what exactly goes in. So give it a try, and adapt it often!
Try these other hearty brunch (or anytime) ideas:
- Steak and egg breakfast skillet
- Bacon onion spaetzle (a small pasta/noodle)
- Shakshuka with beef (a tasty dish of eggs poached in a tomato-pepper sauce)
- Plus get more British recipes in the archives.
Bubble and squeak
- ½ onion small-medium
- 8-10 cooked Brussels sprouts approx 1 cup or use cooked cabbage
- 2 slices smoked bacon or 3, if smaller (streaky)
- 1 tbsp butter 15g
- 8 oz mashed potato 225g, approx 1 cup
- Finely dice the onion, slice/shred the Brussels sprouts and cut the bacon into thin slices.
- Warm the butter in a small (8in/20cm) nonstick skillet/frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the onion and bacon. Cook for a few minutes until the onion softens and the bacon starts to brown.
- Add the shredded Brussels sprouts and cook for a few minutes until they start to brown.
- Mix in the mashed potatoes so they are evenly distributed then flatten the mixture in the skillet.
- Leave the mixture to cook a few minutes (around 5) so that the bottom browns slightly.
- Place a plate over the skillet and flip it over so the mixture falls onto the plate. Add a little bit more butter, if needed, to the skillet, then slide the mixture back into the skillet with what was the top on the bottom. Cook another few minutes until browned on the other side.
- Turn the bubble and squeak onto a plate. If you want to serve it with a fried egg, you can just fry it in the same skillet.
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I first shared the post for Bubble and squeak (British potato cakes) on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.