Sunday, 17 November 2013

Put some squeak in your bubble

Bubble & squeak balls, with sausages & mustard. Yummy
Bubble and squeak may not be a dish of great visual beauty, but by gum, it’s a treat for the taste buds.

And it should, by rights, be an absolute doddle to make.

After all, what could possibly be difficult about some leftover spuds, some leftover veg and a pan with some melted fat?

Well, that’s the stage at which mine gets problematic – the bit where, after heating the fat, you squish the squeak into the pan.

Okay – that’s not the problem: the problem is turning it over or out. It won’t. It simply collapses. I don’t know why – I have followed the recipe in my Two Fat Ladies cookbook to the letter, but it never turns out properly.

Now I have no idea whether this is a universal culinary enigma, but I have found a solution – and it’s every bit as tasty as any other.

But before we get to that, let’s discuss a related issue: sprouts.

What is it with the British? We eat loads of these delicate, gem-green cabbages – not least at Christmas – yet so many people detest them.

Is it a condition of national masochism? ‘Oh, I don’t like them but you have to have them at Christmas.’ Why – not least at that time of year – would you eat something that you don’t like?

That aside, they may get a bad rap for causing flatulence, but that doesn’t seem to have put huge swathes of the population off beans.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing, where early memories are of so many vegetables boiled to a grey pulp that lacked in texture or taste?

Indeed, it’s worth noting that peculiarly British obsession with cooking vegetables ‘al dente’ – or as it often means on these shores, barely bloody cooked at all.

On the latest series of Masterchef: The Professionals, Michel and Monica have already faced undercooked vegetables at least once – and presumably they have a clue what they’re on about.

But maybe it’s a reaction to that overcooked cabbage.

Personally, I’ve long loved sprouts, but in the last couple of years I’ve found a cooking method that seems to make such a radical difference that The Other Half enjoys them more now too.

So, thanks to Joël Robuchon – another French gastronomic giant who can be assumed to know what he’s on about – here’s a wonderful method.

Take your sprouts, trim the stalk and remove the outer leaves. You don’t need to make an incision at the top though; it makes no difference.

For four people, as an accompaniment, use 400g sprouts and put a litre of water on to boil with a teaspoon of course salt.

Pop them in a bowl of cold water with some malt vinegar – two tablespoons to the litre – and leave for two minutes.

Rinse and drain.

Once your water has reached a boil, pop them in and cook briskly for a minute.

Remove into a prepared bowl of iced water, leave for a minute and then drain.

Bring another litre of water to the boil with the same amount of salt and, when that’s just bubbling, pop in the sprouts.

Simmer for 20 minutes – but don’t let the water bubble vigorously this time: gently does it.

Fill another bowl with iced water and pop the cooked sprouts straight in that, drain and then lie out on paper towels or a clean cloth.

When you’re nearing serving your meal, melt around 15g of butter in a pan, add the sprouts, turn the heat to low, add two pinches of salt and one of pepper, and cook, turning gently, for five minutes.

Now you’re probably going to roll your eyes and say: ‘what a fuss’. But one of the advantages of this rather cheffy way of doing them is that you can prepare them well in advance and then just finish them off quickly – which is particularly perfect if you’re a sprouts-on-Christmas-Day kind of person and are juggling loads of thing in the kitchen for the year’s biggest meal.

It goes without saying that, on that occasion, you can also add some diced bacon or some chestnuts to the final cooking in order to ratchet up the festive taste.

But back to good old bubble and squeak, when all of this will already have been done and the vegetables are sitting rather mournfully in a dish feeling not simply left over, but forgotten (it’s worth making extra in the first place just so you have enough for such a ‘left-over’ dish).

Take your sprouts and your spuds and mash them together, with a little extra seasoning if needed.

Heat a generous amount of lard in a frying pan. Yes – lard. This is no time to think about anything as dreadful as marg or even oil, which wouldn’t give you those wonderful crispy bits. And butter can burn too easily. Lard it must be. Or dripping, obviously, and if you have a surfeit and feel posh, then you could probably get away with duck fat.

So heat whatever lovely fat you choose.

And in the meantime, roll your mashed mixture into balls – around the size of a large plum: make them as smooth and as compact as you can. If the mixture is a little dry, add some melted butter, and you may wish to add further seasoning – plenty of pepper anyway.

If you have time, pop them in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up a little.

Then roll them in plain flour and into the hot fat they go. Don’t roll them around too much or too quickly – you want those crispy bits, after all.

Okay, they’ll still leave a little behind in the pan, but nowhere near as much.

And if that doesn’t really make your bubble squeak, then nothing will.


  1. "Indeed, it’s worth noting that peculiarly British obsession with cooking vegetables ‘al dente’ – or as it often means on these shores, barely bloody cooked at all." Not sure how old you are but I suspect significantly younger than I am. When I was a lad British food vegs were almost always notoriously overcooked into a state of flaccid nothingness.

    1. Well, I hot the half century almost a year ago. :-)

      But yes, that was what I was getting at: that the current trend for undercooked veg is a reaction against home cooking and school dinners where it veg were cooked to grey, floppy "nothingness".

      I remember that – as does The Other Half.