A full breakfast is a substantial cooked breakfast meal, often served in the United Kingdom and Ireland, that typically includes bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms, toast, and a beverage such as coffee or tea. It appears in different regional variants and is referred to by different names depending on the area. While it is colloquially known as a “fry up” in most areas of Britain and Ireland, it is usually referred to as a full English breakfast in England (often shortened to “full English”), and as a “full Irish”, “full Scottish”, “full Welsh”, “full Cornish”, and “Ulster fry” in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland, respectively.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_breakfast
If you’ve ever been exposed to period dramas like Downton Abbey, you have an idea where the English breakfast comes from. The tradition begins in the country houses of the gentry, dating at least as far back as the 1300s. Breakfast was viewed as the most important meal of the day, and as a way to show off the quality of the meat and produce raised around the manors. Making sure your guests were well fed before the hunt, a long journey, or whatever the business of the day was just good hospitality.
As we move into the Victorian era, the gentry where in decline and a new upper class of merchants and businessmen where on the rise. They took the tradition of the manor breakfast and used it to show off their wealth, sourcing the rarest and best ingredients. When you think of the gentleman lingering over his breakfast and morning paper before going off to the office, this is probably the era we have in mind.
By the dawn of the 20th century we start to see a standardized menu being served in hotels, trains, and other places where a catered breakfast might be served. This standardization made its rise as a national dish across classes possible.
Of course what the “standardized” menu is is a matter of much debate, and there are Scottish, Welsh, Cornish and two Irish versions, with minor variations. From my research there are eight ingredients that are commonly accepted as making up the Full English. There are plenty of other things that can be added, ranging from spam to giant pork chops, to bone marrow. Purists mostly agree that potatoes, especially hash browns or french fries, have no place on an English breakfast plate, and anything like pancakes or waffles is definitely not British.
So what does belong on a proper “fry up”?
Sausage: There is not any kind of consensus on what variety of sausage to use. Cumberland sausage seems to be a popular choice, but bangers or really any mildly flavored pork sausage are fine. Try for something a little higher quality than “breakfast sausage”, but don’t stress about finding exactly the right authentic sausage.
Back bacon: Aka Rasher. Bacon in Great Britain is a little different than American bacon. To start with it’s cut from the back, rather than the belly, so it’s leaner. It’s wet cured (a process similar to most American hams) and usually not smoked (although you can get it smoked). Because of it’s lower fat content it cooks more like ham and doesn’t get super crispy like belly bacon. Canadian bacon is an acceptable substitute for the British stuff. The lesson I learned is to make sure your pan is nice and hot before adding the bacon, or it will just steam and dry out without browning.
Black Pudding: This is likely the most controversial item on the plate, and I’m not taking about those in the south of England who say that it’s really Scottish and not English at all. No, I’m referring to the fairly large percentage of people who won’t eat it, some because they don’t like it, but at least as many because they think they won’t like it. Black pudding is a blood sausage, made from a mixture of ground pork, oatmeal, pork blood and spices. I made English Breakfast for my wife’s siblings over Christmas weekend. Two out of the three people who had never tried Black Pudding before declared it delicious after being very skeptical.
Baked Beans: In England it’s usual to just open a can of baked beans and warm them up. But the recipe used for canned baked beans in Great Britain has diverged from the American recipe over the years, becoming a tomato based sauce instead of molasses, and using significantly less sugar. I could have just ordered an imported can of beans, but since this is a bean blog I decided to make a “copycat” recipe. Now I don’t think I’ve actually tried the canned British beans before, so I can’t really say how successful of a “copycat” my recipe is, but it is quite tasty.
Tomatoes: Cut in half or thickly sliced and fried briefly on each side. During the winter this brings out flavor in otherwise bland tomatoes, and turns them sort of “jammy”, to be spread on your bread or mixed into the beans. In summer with nice vine ripened tomatoes I might be tempted to leave them raw, although that’s probably heresy.
Mushrooms: Nothing particularly special here. Use whatever kind of mushroom you like. Cremini or button are probably most available here in the US. Fry in butter until they reach your desired doneness.
Eggs: I highly recommend doing them sunny side up, with a soft yolk, so that the yolk becomes another sauce to be mixed with the meat and veggies and sopped up with your bread. Poached or soft boiled might make you feel more like you’re living in a period movie. But really, eggs are often a highly personal choice, so cook them the way that you’ll enjoy eating them.
Bread: For the tastiest results, butter the bread and they fry it (like making a grilled cheese sandwich). For slightly healthier results (I mean look at the rest of the meal- are you really saving yourself anything?) you can do regular toast. The English Breakfast Society says that an English breakfast should have fried bread and then be followed by a slice regular toast with marmalade. I chose to simplify my recipe and only prepare the bread one way.
Other accompaniments: Of course if you’re trying to take yourself on a trip to Downton Abbey you should have tea with your English breakfast. Apparently coffee is also acceptable if that’s more your cup of tea (see what I did there?). Fresh squeezed orange juice is also a good start to the day. HP sauce (or another “brown sauce”) is similar to steak sauce and generally on the table at all meals in the UK, similar to how we serve ketchup in the United States. Ketchup is also acceptable. Finally, serve some marmalade and/or other jam.
In the following photos I was cooking a double batch to serve four people, so used two pans. If your pan is large enough you should be able to do breakfast for two with one pan. I also missed photos of warming the beans and frying the bread.
Full English Breakfast
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
½ Tablespoon oil, plus more as needed.
3-4 pork sausages
4-5 rashers back bacon
2 slices black pudding
1 Tablespoons butter
5 oz. mushrooms, quartered
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, halved
1 ½ cups British baked beans
3 slices white bread
1 Tablespoon butter
2 large eggs.
Lard, in place of oil
2 sprigs of parsley,for garnish
2 slices ham
Preheat oven to 200 F, and place a heatproof plate inside.
Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat and add oil. When hot add sausages and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Make a few cuts through the fat layer of the bacon to prevent curling, and add the bacon and black pudding to the pan and continue to cook, turning everything occasionally, until sausages are cooked through and browned, bacon is crispy, and black pudding is crisp on both sides. Remove meat to platter in the oven to stay warm.
Raise heat to medium high and add 1 Tablespoon of butter to the pan. When melted, add mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes. Season your tomatoes and add to the pan, cut side down. Cook 2-3 minutes, flip and cook 2-3 minutes more, until mushrooms are nicely browned and tomatoes are caramelized but not falling apart. Remove vegetables to oven to keep warm.
Meanwhile, Heat baked beans in a small pot over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Add additional oil to frying pan if necessary, and reduce heat to medium-low. Fry bread for about 2 minutes on each side, until crispy and golden. Cut fried bread into triangles and place on plates
Turn heat up to medium and add 1 tablespoon of butter to frying pan. When hot break eggs into pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until whites are set but yolks are still runny.
Divide meat, vegetables, beans, fried bread and eggs between 2 plates. Serve with tea, fresh orange juice, ketchup and/or brown sauce, and marmalade or a nice fruit jam on the side.
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