Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bubble and Squeak.

‘Bubble and Squeak’ is an English dish originally made up of “meat and cabbage fried up together.” Nowadays the meat is often replaced with potatoes – which makes it the same as the Irish traditional favourite of Colcannon.

The supporting quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary demonstrate this change from a rather fine way of using up thinly sliced cold roast beef to an equally fine (in a very different sort of way) method of using up leftover cooked cabbage and other vegetables. The first quotation cited for the actual dish is in 1772 but there are earlier references to the figurative use of the phrase, so the dish was undoubtedly being made well before this time.
There is a fine example of metaphorical ‘Bubble and Squeak’ and eighteenth century wit in an article in The Mid-Wife: or, the old woman’s magazine, by Christopher Smart, 1753 - which is certainly not a cookery magazine.

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.

It is generally accepted that the name of the dish comes from the sizzling noise as it cooks in the frying pan, as is poetically explained in our quotation for the day, below. The poets have not been silent on the matter of Bubble and Squeak . Lord Byron (1788-1824), no less, mentions it in Don Juan, Canto XV:

Alas! I must leave undescribed the gibier,
The salmi, the consommé, the purée,
All which I use to make my rhymes run glibber
Than could roast beef in our rough John Bull way:
I must not introduce even a spare rib here,
"Bubble and squeak" would spoil my liquid lay:
But I have dined, and must forego, Alas!
The chaste description even of a "bécasse;"

And Robert Browning (1812-1889) too, referred to it in Holy-Cross Day:

Fee, faw, fum! bubble and squeak!
Blessedest Thursday's the fat of the week.
Rumble and tumble, sleek and rough,
Stinking and savoury, smug and gruff,
Take the church-road, for the bell's due chime
Gives us the summons - 'tis sermon-time!

As for recipes for Bubble and Squeak, the OED itself provides one (and is therefore a candidate then for my collection of ‘recipes from unusual sources’)

1881 Leicester. Gloss. (E.D.S.) Bubble-and-squeak, slices of underdone beef fried and seasoned, laid on cabbage, boiled, strained, chopped, and fried in dripping.

Note: this recipe uses fresh (not previously cooked) cabbage, and slices of underdone [roast] beef – not leftover cabbage and potatoes. The following recipe is earlier, but is essentially the same.

Bubble and Squeak.
Boil, chop, and fry, with a little butter, pepper, and salt, some cabbage, and lay on it slices of underdone beef, lightly fried.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, formed upon principles of economy …, by Maria Rundell, 1833

Quotation for the Day.
What mortals Bubble call and Squeak,
When midst the Frying-pan in accents savage,
The Beef so surly quarrels with the Cabbage.
Peter Pindar Wolcott (1738-1819)

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