England is a lovely place, full of friendly people and laid-back pubs, and famous for such wonders as The Beatles, Big Ben, and Pippa Middleton’s rear. But, let’s be honest, its culinary reputation is not exactly stellar. Last week I shipped off to the UK for a wedding/vacation, and spent the week before that mentally preparing myself to be unimpressed with the food. However, after a long weekend in London, I found myself quite satisfied with Thai food and quiche and even excellent Italian. And then I left England for Scotland, where I was again pleasantly surprised by pub food and fancy food alike. My boyfriend and I had heard tales of haggis, a mysterious mix of unfavorable meats, onions, oats and spices. Even a lot of the locals we talked to in Edinburgh seemed skeeved out by it, but it turns out haggis is pretty awesome. It’s nutty and savory, and basically just like sausage. Also in Scotland, I had a fantastic veggie burger and some of the best oatmeal I’ve ever eaten. (For reference, I eat a LOT of oatmeal.) It wasn’t long before I decided I was quite all right with English and Scottish food.
One of the best discoveries of the trip, was the English fry-up, or the full Scottish breakfast. They’re slightly different in makeup, but similar in concept. The English version is generally one egg, slab bacon, sausage, baked beans, hash browns, a small seared/grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and toast. The Scottish version is one egg, slab bacon, sausage, haggis, blood pudding (I embraced haggis, but couldn’t quite get there with blood pudding), hash browns, a small seared/grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and toast. And this is no hard and fast rule. I’m sure each restaurant has its own secret recipe and opinion on what should be included. Regardless of what’s on the plate, it’s always the same sort of mishmash of deliciousness—perfect for we indecisive folk—and, as you can imagine, amazing hangover food. Even better if someone else wants to make it for you.
My one qualm was the balance of ingredients on the plate. I found myself finishing the meal and craving more veggies, beans, and eggs (who eats one egg?!), and wishing I had eaten less meat. So when I got home, I decided to update my new favorite brunch to a slightly healthier model (“slightly” being the operative word). I was pretty pleased with the results. I fashioned this recipe after the English version, but perhaps homemade haggis will be added to my repertoire soon enough.
The Great English Fry-up
This is not a traditional recipe, but rather guidance on how to concoct your very own fry-up for two.
Seared tomato slices
1. Preheat the oven to 425º. Chop a large potato (sweet or otherwise) into bite-size pieces. Coat with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crispy on the outside.
2. Slice 1 large yellow onion into thin slivers. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and stir often. After about 3 minutes, turn down the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside but leave the heat on.
3. In the onion pan, add the sausage. I like to cut mine in half lengthwise to get more of the flavors out and into the oil. Cook until nicely browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside and turn the heat to medium-low. You’ll be cooking eggs in this pan, but for now you just want to keep it warm.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add a couple of handfuls of sliced cremini or portabello mushrooms (the equivalent of about 1 portabello cap per person). Sautee for about 10 minutes, until soft. Set aside but leave the heat on.
5. Meanwhile, heat a can of baked beans in a small saucepan over low heat for about 10 minutes or until the beans are warm.
6. In the mushroom pan, add 4 thick slices of tomato, and raise the heat to medium high. Sear the tomatoes for 2-3 minutes on each side.
7. In the onion/sausage pan, turn the heat back up to medium. Crack 4 eggs into the pan and cook to taste. You can leave them sunny side up, or cook them over-easy, as I did. Gooey yolk is key.
8. While the eggs are cooking, toast bread if you want it.
9. Divide everything among 2 large plates and devour.
Freya Bellin writes weekly for Mark Bittman’s web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include What My Spanish Mom Taught Me, Rub-a-dub-dub: My Homemade Spice Rub Experiment, and A Better Burger (Without Waiting In Line!).