Walk into a typical British cafe, and somewhere near the top of the menu you will find the ‘full English breakfast’. Stay at a British hotel and, when you sit down to eat in the morning, there it will be again. Open up a magazine or switch on the television, and someone, somewhere, will be greedily tucking into one!
In the north, they call it a ‘fry up’ while down south it’s a more usually a ‘full English’, but whatever you call it, it’s delicious, and cheap and easy to cook. Taken with what some call ‘a cup of brown joy’ (a cup of tea), and you have everything you need to power you through the day. Well, at least until lunchtime!
Like grey skies, green grass and warm beer, the full English breakfast is an integral part of British life – it inspires the nation to get out of bed. Indeed, the only thing wrong with the ‘full English breakfast’ is that, being a breakfast, you can’t eat it all day – so recently it has been ingeniously renamed ‘all day breakfast’.
Our cultured French neighbours arrange their dishes in an artistic way, but the British prefer simply to throw everything onto a large plate, to facilitate the process of speedy eating. Fried bacon and fried eggs are essential; if your ‘full English’ comes without either of these then it’s an imposter and a fraud! Sausages are important too – without these it isn’t a ‘full English’, just ‘bacon and eggs’. But to really earn the ‘full’ accolade, your first meal of the day needs to come with an array of extras…
The bacon, eggs and sausages must be right, but only when baked beans, black pudding, fried tomatoes and mushrooms are also included does it truly pass the taste test. You’ll also want a couple of slices of toast with that too, and a dash of tomato ketchup, HP sauce or – if you’re a connoisseur – a few splashes of Worcester Sauce. After you have eaten your way through all of this, then it is not the breakfast that will be full, but you!
Those who really take their ‘fry ups’ seriously will add even more. In Victorian times, you could find delicacies such as pig’s cheek, baked halibut steaks and pheasant legs on the plate. Then there are plenty of regional variations; you may see haggis (a savoury pudding featuring the offal from a sheep or calf) in Scotland, while in Wales they might add cockles.
Cooking the ‘full English’ is done in a large, shallow, flat bottomed frying pan. The choice of cooking oil counts for a lot; your editor prefers extra virgin olive oil, although coconut oil is also superb. Those on a budget can simply buy standard ‘cooking oil’, and save a few pennies. When the food comes out of the frying pan, it’s a good idea to place it on absorbent kitchen roll for a minute or so, to let most of the oil drain away.
It was the Victorians who turned breakfast into an important time of the day in the early nineteenth century, but its roots go back another five hundred years. Rich gentlemen living in huge country houses used to show off the quality of their meats and agricultural produce – and they took breakfasting very seriously. Almost everything in Britain has its own society, and the most important meal of the day is no exception. Check out www.englishbreakfastsociety.com to learn more.