The Great British Breakfast - Pt.1 The Full English Breakfast
Updated: Feb 20
This post literally has me excited before I even start it. It's going to be part of a series of posts documenting the phenomenon that is the Great British Breakfast (GBB). It is absolutely and unequivocally my favourite meal of all time anywhere. If I was on Death Row, I would order it as my last meal and if I was allowed 3 things on a desert island, it would be bacon, sausage and eggs!
It is also probably responsible (along with my love of salt) for my slightly questionable cholesterol and blood pressure levels ) over the years, which I am glad to say is at fully normal levels and under medical supervision. I digress, back to the greatest, most debated, and often misunderstood meal of our time, the fabulous Fry-up.
So we begin with arguably the most globally recognised version of the GBB, the English Breakfast, the Full English, The Fry-Up. As British as the Bulldog itself, this dish is served up in the cheapest roadside cafe's (Affectionately known as Greasy Spoons due to the shared spoon used to add sugar and stir your cup of English tea, which was never that well washed up to start with) to the most high end restaurants in Central London. The Carlton, The Dorchester & The Ritz hotels all serve their version of the English breakfast for the princely sum of just 50 Pounds / 65 Dollars (you'd have to be slightly mad or seriously wedged). Conversely, one can get the same dish at The Regency Cafe (Voted the 5th best eatery in London by Yelp and featured in a number of films including Layer Cake, Brighton Rock and Pride) around the corner from them for just 6 pounds / 7.50 Dollars and I bet it's as good if not better.
The history of the Full English Breakfast goes all the way back to the thirteenth century. Landed gentry would offer lavish feasts to visiting guests and neighbours before the days hunting as an act of hospitality.
William Somerset Maugham a famous 19th Century English writer wrote: "To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day".
This is where the controversy starts, there are many elements to a Full English Breakfast (Hence the term Full) and arguably, the more they have, the better the breakfast. For the purposes of keeping this a post and not turning it into a novel, we'll categorise the various ingredients into 3 distinct categories and focus only on the elements that are English and do not stray into Scottish, Irish or Welsh versions (As they also consider themselves an independent country, the Cornish people of Cornwall have their version of the GBB, and are largely considered by the rest of England as "a little bit bonkers"):
Core Ingredient - It's not a full English without it
Added Value Ingredient - When you're really getting your Fry-up on
Non-Purist Ingredient - Shouldn't be there but often popular with the unaffiliated
OK, whilst we're still young, lets get on with it:
Core Ingredients - The bare basics of the Full English Breakfast
Bacon - Mmmm Bacon - Back Bacon. Streaky tends to lean towards toward an american style but is acceptable. Fried, crisped but not dry and burned
Sausages - The humble banger. Has to be pork. traditional seasonings are sage, black pepper and onion. Lincolnshire and Cumberland are known as good quality breakfast sausages. Fried, cooked through and browned
Eggs - Fried. Sunny side up, fully cooked white, runny yoke for the bread and the dipping thereof. Should not be crispy and best cooked at lower heat. Poached are considered acceptable in an up-scaled version
Bread - White Sliced, liberally buttered. Both toasted and un-toasted should be available, the latter for making a sandwich from the other ingredients and known as a Butty, Bap, Roll or Bun depending where in Britain you live
Sauce - Tomato or Brown (Yes, it's actually called Brown Sauce). Preferably Heinz brand for the Tomato and HP brand for the Brown.
Added Value Ingredients - Popular additions for personalising your Full English
Baked Beans - Heinz brand are the nation's favourite, cooked down to a wetter version of Mexican refried beans
Mushrooms - Fried (Can you see a trend forming here). Chopped tend to be preferred over whole. Nothing added other than a little salt to bring out the water
Tomatoes - Tinned, peeled plum tomatoes preferred but whole tomatoe's sliced into two and fried are acceptable
Fried Bread - Buttered both sides and fried until crispy. Works best when fried in the pan from the bacon. Can also be deep fried for the truly health unconscious.
Black Pudding - In the US and France, this is known as Boudin Noir. Cooked Pig's blood with added pork fat mixed with oats. Sounds disgusting and is an acquired taste but considered a delicacy. Comes pre-cooked (boiled) so only requires light frying to heat and crisp edges. Bury black pudding is considered the best in England.
Bubble & Squeak - A fried potato cake with chopped veg. Traditionally made from the vegetable leftovers of the previous nights meal (Potato mash and carrots, cauliflower, cabbage etc.). Named due to the sounds it makes when fried in butter in a frying pan. Also known just as Bubble.
Non-Purist Ingredients -You see them, but they shouldn't be on there
Hash Brown - Found it's way onto English plates after being introduced by Mickey D's as part of their breakfast and caught on.....like a virus
Steak - Introduced as part of the Tex-Mex revolution and to appear more american. Steak is too expensive a produce to qualify for an English Breakfast and is too heavy at that time of day.
Scrambled Eggs - Perfectly acceptable for breakfast but not on a full English. The idea of the Yoke on a fried or poached egg is to bring some liquid to the dish (same as the sauce, tomatoes and beans)
Chips / French Fries / Potato Waffles / Fried Potatoes - Often used to increase the volume of breakfast at low cost. Chips are not a breakfast item so technically by adding them to a Full English, you make it a brunch.
Pancakes - Because they're only for Shrove Tuesday / Pancake Day, not for breakfast
And there you have it, the makings of a Great British Staple that powered an Empire. As long as you have the sausage, bacon, egg and bread (you always have sauce and butter in the pantry in the UK) you can have a good breakfast. Arguably you should always either have beans or tomatoes to prevent the breakfast being dry and mushrooms only miss the core spot due to a reasonable percentage of the population not liking their texture.
A perfect Full English should always be served at the table with Tomato & Brown Sauces, Salt & Pepper, a pile of bread, butter, Orange Marmalade, Strawberry Jam, a pot of English Breakfast Tea and a glass of pure Orange Juice.
The GBB also comes in various "Specialist" versions including Vegetarian where the bacon, sausage and even black pudding can be acquired in Plant Based versions. Breakfast in a bun is basically all core ingredients encased in a bread roll for them breakfast on the run.
The Carb-conscious Full English came about by the absolute revelation that a Full English cold make you thin, well advertised by Mr Atkins and his famous and originally named carbohydrate shunning diet "The Atkins". Just stick with sausage, egg, bacon, mushrooms and black pudding and watch the weight literally drop off (along with your health probably).
My personal favourite The All-Day Breakfast which allows you to sleep late on the weekend and still kill your hangover form the excesses of the previous night with a Full English down "The Caf" at 11am (at which point I have been known to add chips to my meal).
You can even get Full English in a frozen ready meal (not advisable) and even by the miracle of modern gastronomy, in a tin can, which is basically the same idea as meatballs in a can but with baked beans, chopped hot-dog sausages and something similar to bacon (it's not bacon). So wherever & whenever you get the craving for the titan of all breakfast, you're simply minutes away.
The reason I think the GBB is the greatest dish on earth is that there is no star of the show ingredient, they all play their part as well as the cast of a Richard Curtis Movie. It's infinitely configurable to your personal taste without blowing it's integrity, it's enjoyed by the most humble of Brits through to the Royal Family and it requires little technical skill or equipment to create. I'm struggling to think of another dish which achieves all of that and has done for the last 600+ years.
If you've read this far, thanks for indulging us and I hope, if you're not already a convert, you'll learn to love the Great British Breakfast in all it's guises. If you're slightly fanatical about the GBB, don't miss our other posts on the Irish Breakfast, The Full Scottish and the Welsh Breakfast.
This has made me feel quite peckish.
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