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Bubble and squeak
-2019-08-08 Bubble and Squeak with Baked Beans, Cromer (1).JPG
Bubble and squeak (left) served with baked beans
Place of origin United Kingdom
Main ingredients Potato, cabbage

Bubble and squeak is a British dish made from cooked potatoes and cabbage, mixed together and fried. The food writer Howard Hillman classes it as one of the "great peasant dishes of the world". The dish has been known since at least the 18th century, and in its early versions it contained cooked beef. By the mid-20th century the two vegetables had become the principal ingredients.


The name of the dish, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), alludes to the sounds made by the ingredients when being fried. The first recorded use of the name listed in the OED dates from 1762; The St James's Chronicle, recording the dishes served at a banquet, included "Bubble and Squeak, garnish'd with Eddowes Cow Bumbo, and Tongue". A correspondent in The Public Advertiser two years later reported making "a very hearty Meal on fried Beef and Cabbage; though I could not have touched it had my Wife recommended it to me under the fashionable Appellation of Bubble and Squeak". In 1791 another London paper recorded the quarterly meeting of the Bubble and Squeak Society at Smithfield.

Mrs Rundell's recipe, 1806

The dish as it is made in modern times differs considerably from its first recorded versions, in which cooked beef was the main ingredient and potatoes did not feature. The earliest-known recipe is in Mrs Rundell's A New System of Domestic Cookery, published in 1806. It consists wholly of cabbage and rare roast beef, seasoned and fried. This method is followed by William Kitchiner in his book Apicius Redivivus, or The Cook's Oracle (1817); in later editions he adds a couplet at the top of his recipe:

     When 'midst the frying Pan in accents savage,
     The Beef, so surly, quarrels with the Cabbage.

Mrs Beeton's recipe in her Book of Household Management (1861) similarly combines cooked beef with cabbage (and, in her recipe, onions) but no potato. An 1848 recipe from the US is similar, but adds chopped carrots. In all of these, the meat and vegetables are served next to each other, and not mixed together.

In 1872 a Lancashire newspaper offered a recipe for "delicious bubble and squeak", consisting of thinly-sliced beef fried with cabbage and carrot, but not potatoes, although by then they had been a major crop in Lancashire for decades. In the 1880s potatoes began to appear in recipes. In 1882 the "Household" column of The Manchester Times suggested:

Bubble and Squeak. – Mash four potatoes, chop a plateful of cold greens, season with a small saltspoonful of salt and the same of pepper; mix well together, and fry in dissolved dripping or butter (three ounces), stirring all the time. Cut about three-quarters of a pound of cold, boiled beef into neat, thin slices. Fry slightly over a slow fire six minutes. Put the vegetables round the dish and the meat in the centre. Serve very hot.

Potatoes featured in a recipe printed in a Yorkshire paper in 1892 but, as in earlier versions, the main ingredients were beef and cabbage.

Modern versions

Montpelier, Peckham, London (2875954468)
Bubble and squeak, left

Possibly because of the scarcity of beef during food rationing in and after the Second World War, by the latter half of the 20th century the basic ingredients were widely considered to be cooked and mashed (or coarsely crushed) potato and chopped cooked cabbage. Those are the only two ingredients in Delia Smith's 1987 recipe. Clarissa Dickson Wright's 1996 version consists of crushed cooked potatoes, finely chopped raw onion, and cooked cabbage (or brussels sprouts), seasoned with salt and pepper, mixed together and shallow-fried until browned on the exterior. Like Smith, Dickson Wright specifies dripping (or lard) for frying, finding vegetable oil unsuitable for frying bubble and squeak, because the mixture will not brown adequately. Several other cooks find oil or butter satisfactory.

Fiona Beckett (2008), like Smith and Dickson Wright, stipulates no ingredients other than potato and cabbage, but there are many published variants of the basic recipe. Gary Rhodes favours sliced brussels sprouts, rather than cabbage, with gently cooked sliced onions and mashed potato, fried in butter. He comments that although the basic ingredients of bubble and squeak and colcannon are similar, the two are very different dishes, the former being traditionally made from left-overs and fried to give a brown crust, and the latter "a completely separate dish of potato, spring onion and cabbage, served almost as creamed potatoes".

Jeff Smith (1987) adds grated courgettes and chopped ham and bacon. Mark Hix (2005) adds cooked and chopped leeks and swede to the mix. Jamie Oliver (2007) adds chestnuts and "whatever veg you like – carrots, Brussels, swedes, turnips, onions, leeks or Savoy cabbage". Nigel Slater, in a 2013 recipe using Christmas leftovers, adds chopped goose, ham and pumpkin to the mixture.

The mixture is then shallow fried, either shaped into round cakes or as a single panful, tortilla-style, and then sliced. The first method is suggested by Delia Smith, Hix and Slater; Rhodes finds both methods satisfactory; Dickson Wright, Oliver and Jeff Smith favour the whole-pan method.

Outside Britain

Bubble and squeak is familiar in Australia; a 1969 recipe adds peas and pumpkin to the basic mix. The dish is not common in the US but is not unknown; an American recipe from 1913 resembles Rundell's version, with the addition of a border of mashed potato. In 1983, American food writer Howard Hillman included bubble and squeak in his survey Great Peasant Dishes of the World. More recently Forbes magazine ran an article about the dish in 2004. A Canadian newspaper in 1959 reported a minor controversy about the origins of the dish, with readers variously claiming it as Australian, English, Irish and Scottish. In 1995, another Canadian paper called the dish "universally beloved".

Similar dishes

Other uses of term

The OED gives a secondary definition of "bubble and squeak": "figurative and in figurative contexts. Something resembling or suggestive of bubble and squeak, especially in consisting of a variety of elements". In 1825 a reviewer in The Morning Post dismissed a new opera at Covent Garden as "a sort of bubble and squeak mixture of English and Italian". The OED gives examples from the 18th to the 21st centuries, including, from Coleridge, "… the restless Bubble and Squeak of his Vanity and Discontent", and from D. H. Lawrence, "I can make the most lovely bubble and squeak of a life for myself". In cockney rhyming slang the phrase was formerly used for "beak" (magistrate) and more recently "Bubble" has been used for "Greek".

The term has been borrowed by authors of children's books as names for a pair of puppies and (by two different authors) pairs of mice.

See also

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