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English pub food

The view from The Mayflower pub along the River Thames. The site has been home to a pub since 1550 and it's where the Mayflower, the ship, began its voyage to America in 1620.
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The view from The Mayflower pub along the River Thames. The site has been home to a pub since 1550 and it's where the Mayflower, the ship, began its voyage to America in 1620.

Having just spent a bit of time in London, I came away with a renewed appreciation for that timeless tradition: pub grub. It was hard to talk me out of ordering yet another plate of fish and chips, especially with good English ale at hand. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino agrees with me: there are some mighty fine stick to your ribs dishes you can chow down on at Ye Olde Elephant and Castle.

It was wonderful to renew my acquaintance with a British classic, Bubble and Squeak. Now let me hasten to say that Ireland makes a strong case for being the source of this dish, which I don't find unreasonable at all.

Every recipe I read says the same thing: this is a good use for left over mashed potatoes. That may be true, but it is so good that I'd be willing to mash up a fresh batch just for some Bubble and Squeak.

So you have your mashed potatoes, and you'll want to get some cooked cabbage or Brussels sprouts, a little onion, some garlic, and quite possibly some cut up bacon.

This definitely needs a big old cast iron skillet, so fire it up and melt some bacon fat or a half stick of butter. In go the onions and the bacon, then the garlic. In a bowl you want to mix up the mashed potatoes with the shredded veggies and season well with salt and pepper. The whole potato mix goes into the skillet and you smooth it out until it fills it up. Start gently pressing it down and listen for the telltale squeaking sound. When the bottom is set, flip the whole thing over and cook some more. You're going for a good all-over crunchy golden brown finish. You can even flip it once more, pressing it down real good, and let it cook a few moments longer. Turn it out and serve immediately with whatever is left over from last night's dinner.

The other classic I came across is another old friends, the humbly named "mushy peas". If you've had classic fish and chips, especially in the north of England, then you've come across mushy peas. My first encounter was at Harry Ramsden's famous Fish and Chips place in Yorkshire. For me, those were definitive. A dull green color, they were nevertheless creamy and delicious. In London, something got lost in the translation because the mushy peas there were bright green... denoting fresh garden peas. Apparently not the way to go if you are a stickler for the real thing.

The best results are obtained by using special peas called "marrowfat", unobtainable in this country. So it's OK to soak our standard dried peas overnight as if making split pea soup. Once they are soft, you cook them with a little water and baking soda which will further soften them and let them go to mush... which is exactly what you want. A little salt and pepper never hurt anyone, so season and serve.

Again, I say fish and chips just ain't the same without your mushy peas, so give them a try and have the barman pull a pint of best bitter for you.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.