Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Bubble & Squeak

As I made this, I reflected that it is not the easiest thing to make, and requires a somewhat experienced cook for it to turn out well. It's been a while since I have made this, or any other fried leftover potato hashy dish, so mine was not quite as perfect as I would have liked, although it was good enough.

This is traditionally a dish of leftovers. The potatoes and cabbage are obvious, but you will also need some bacon fat saved from previous bacon cookery. But you do that, don't you? After all, unless you bought really crappy bacon or found one heck of a sale, you paid at least $6 per pound for that bacon fat; you might as well use it. It also makes fried potato dishes so much better than frying them in some anonymous vegetable oil. Keep it in a jam jar in the fridge. When you have one full enough to be using to cook, start a second to avoid the phenomenon of having the bottom inch of bacon fat sit around for years.

So what makes this dish so tricky? Partly it's that the ingredients are so fluid. How much fat, salt, and moisture are in your potatoes already? Some, I would imagine. At least. You will need to take those into consideration when judging how much to add.

I further find that you must put in enough bacon fat at the start of cooking them that your potatoes aren't sticking, but avoid putting in so much that as the water cooks out of them and they shrink down, they don't revert to oozing with grease. On the other hand if you have not added enough, you will know it as your potatoes will scorch and turn black instead of a nice rich brown. You also need to know about things like wringing out your cabbage. But much of this is hard to describe and relies on experience to recognize. And of course, you will adjust your cooking times according to whether you are someone who likes your potatoes just lightly browned, or if, like me, you figure the more crunchy brown bits the better, right up to the point that it is actually burnt.

Cooking the bacon separately seems finicky and pointless, but in my experience (and cast iron pans) cooking the bacon then using the same pan to cook other things in only leads to welded-on, unevenly cooked messes. Your pan may vary, of course. But to me it's better to clean 2 easy pans than 1 horrific one.

4 servings
45 minutes prep time not including pre-cooking the vegetables

1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
2 to 4 tablespoons bacon fat
4 cups leftover mashed potatoes
2 to 4 cups leftover cooked cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or kale
4 to 6 slices bacon

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the bacon fat in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until softened and translucent, then stir in the garlic. Crumble in the leftover mashed potatoes, and mix. Let cook for a few minutes, then turn and mix them about, scraping up any browned bits, and let cook again.

Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces, and cook them separately in another skillet, again over medium heat. When they are fairly crisp, remove them from the pan and set aside. Add (some of) the fat from them to the pan of potatoes, if it seems they need it, or add it to your store of bacon fat.

When the potatoes and onions have cooked for a bit and are starting to accumulate a reasonable amount of crisped brown bits throughout, add the cooked cabbage or other vegetable, and the cooked bacon pieces. Before you do so, squeeze the cabbage to remove as much moisture as you can, and chop it if it is too coarse. Mix well. Press the mixture into the pan fairly firmly and evenly, and leave it to cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes. Turn it, as carefully as you can and patching it together if necessary, press down again, and cook the other side for about 5 minutes as well. Loosen the Bubble and Squeak, and turn it out onto a serving plate. 

Last year at this time I made Tartar Sauce.

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