The full English – breakfast of Champions!
“The critical period in matrimony is breakfast time.”
– Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, English journalist and writer [1890-1971]
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
― A.A. Milne
The full English, a ‘fry-up’, a cooked breakfast or the full Monty. Whatever you call it, the full English breakfast is truly one of champions. It is a personal meal, a social occasion or one to sit and peruse the papers with, a hardy feast to set you up for a busy day or a meal to enjoy leisurely at the weekend. Today it transcends class, being served in ‘greasy spoons’ across the country and in Michelin starred restaurants. It’s a meal taken seriously, critically revered, easy to get wrong and quick to satisfy, making the world a happy place again.
But where did it start? Well…
Our traditional fry up is actually hundreds of years old. The English Gentry in the thirteenth century (those of noble birth, genteel, titled families and such) took it upon themselves to be guardians of a traditional English lifestyle, culture and cuisine – self-professed cultural heirs of the Anglo-Saxons.
The gentry were famous for their breakfast feasts, considered to be the most important meal and social occasion of each day. They often served them before long journeys, hunting or the morning-after-the-night-before as a show of their wealth, using quality meat and vegetable produce local to their various estates, cooked with skill to show off the quality of their cooks to guests and residents of the household. And so began the idea of a proper English breakfast.
Skip forward a few centuries and it was in the age of Queen Victoria that the full English breakfast was shaped to that which we recognise now. Aspiring Victorians adopted the gentry’s English Breakfast and made it into an art form, standardising the ingredients to those we love today. Indeed, it was a key feature of Mrs Beeton’s ‘Book of Household Management’ published in 1861 as one of her suggested breakfasts.
In the age of the industrial revolution, the working classes began partaking of a hearty fry-up each morning to prepare themselves for the busy working day of hard manual labour. If you were to choose a ‘peak’ for the consumption of the English breakfast it would be in the 1950s where half the population of Britain would start their day with a traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausages.
So what constitutes a proper, traditional full English breakfast? A topic of some controversy, personal preference and also regionality, the core ingredients are good quality pork sausages, bacon, blood sausage (black pudding), eggs, fried tomato and mushrooms, a slice of fried bread and buttered toast. All washed down with a cuppa (English breakfast tea if you’re being proper but it’s acceptable to drink coffee in these instances too).
There is controversy to the list of ingredients though. Where are the hash browns I hear you cry? They’re considered to be an addition of our American cousins and as such not ‘traditional’. What about the baked beans? Well, these fall under the category of personal preference but are not offensive on the breakfast plate. Chips? Virtual blasphemy. Fried, scrambled or poached eggs are all acceptable ways to cook this crucial part of the breakfast plate.
Regional variations include grilled oatcakes in place of fried bread in the North Midlands, hog’s pudding and potato cakes in a traditional Cornish breakfast, potato farls, white pudding and soda bread in some parts of Ireland, cockles and laverbread in Wales and up in the northern reaches of Scotland, haggis and tattie scones are frequent additions to the cooked breakfast.
Today the cooked full English breakfast is one of the most recognised British dishes globally. A whopping fifth of Brits abroad will chow down on a full English when on their holidays. As Michelin starred chef Tom Kerridge proudly says “Done properly, the full English breakfast is one of the best dishes in the world.”
How to cook the perfect full English breakfast?
It is almost impossible to say given the number of personal preferences involved, but here is how we at spoiltpig HQ cook ours – minimal stress, maximum deliciousness!
For each person allow roughly:
• 2 quality, high meat content RSPCA assured pork sausages
• 3 rashers of dry cured spoiltpig smoked back bacon
• 2 large flat mushroom
• 1 large ripe tomato (cut in half)
• 1 generous slice of black pudding
• 2 large free range eggs
• 1 slice of doorstop farmhouse white bread for toasting
Sausages will take the longest time to cook so start with these first. On a griddle pan, over a medium-low heat, melt a small amount of butter before adding your sausages. These will need to be turned occasionally over a 20min period until they’re a lovely golden colour on all sides. The second 10mins of cooking time increase the heat a touch as you will need to add the other ingredients to this pan.
So to the other ingredients…
Place the rashers of spoiltpig bacon onto the griddle pan and fry according to preference (we like to get it quite crispy so allow 4mins each side). When you’re happy with the crispiness of your bacon you can transfer the rashers to a hot plate to keep warm in the oven while the remaining ingredients cook.
Trim to stalk of the mushrooms to sit flat with the underside. Season each mushroom well and add a little extra butter to the griddle pan. Place the mushrooms upside down (stalk side facing you) on the pan and cook for a couple of minutes before turning over to cook for a further 5mins. You’ll need to keep an eye on the mushrooms because cooking for too long a time can make them soggy (which isn’t a particularly pleasant!). Now to consider the tomato. Cut your ripe tomato in half, season it well and place with the cut side down onto the pan. Resist moving it around! Let the tomato cook for a couple of minutes before turning over and cooking for a further 3 minutes on the other side.
Often people are daunted by cooking black pudding and we’re not quite sure why. It’s possibly one of the easiest components of the humble fry up. Simply cook each side (skin removed) for 2 minutes on each side until crisp. Et voila!
The final steps. Put your thick farmhouse bread in the toaster or under the grill and while that’s toasting away, crack on with the eggs (see what I did there?!). Fried is the winner here so we crack our yummy free range eggs straight into the hot pan and don’t touch them for a good 40 seconds. From here on it’s all about basting the egg with a touch more butter added to the pan so that it cooks on the top to your liking. Season during the ‘basting’ time and then gently remove it from the pan with a fish slice (don’t break the yolk! That truly is disaster!)
Put all your ingredients on a plate. Butter the toast with slightly salted butter, add a squeeze of brown or tomato sauce according to preference and then eat it all up, happy in the knowledge that your hearty feast is of historical importance and will set you up nicely for the day ahead.
NB: Always cook more than suggested. You’ll want to go back for seconds!
Also – should you prefer just a quick cheeky bacon sandwich, have a look at our spoiltpig Ultimate Bacon Sandwich recipe…