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Monday, June 2, 2014

So, what makes a Full English Breakfast?

Garfunkels, Terminal 4, London Heathrow Airport, October 2010

An anonymous poster has berated Agent Triple P for including baked beans in his cooked breakfasts, claiming that baked beans should never be eaten before 6.00pm.  Although we feel that this is a ridiculous notion, Mr Anonymous' comments do raise the question of what does indeed constitute a Full English breakfast; one of Britain's great contributions to international gastronomy.  This does not mean, of course that Agent Triple P doesn't have his own preferences but we are not tied to externally imposed "rules".

Langham Hotel, London, February 2011

Eschewing the effete bread-based efforts of our continental cousins the cooked English breakfast really came to the fore in the nineteenth century and certainly helped fuel the industrial revolution and assist Britain's rise to the greatest Imperial power the world has ever seen.  Try and run the world on a few flaky croissants or some slices of cheese and ham and see how far you get.  

The proper constituents of a Full English breakfast is as controversial as what goes into a Bolognese sauce or a Salad Niçoise.  So let's have a look at the candidates.  We will illustrate them with pictures from our own breakfast history!


Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, October 2009

These could be fried, scrambled or poached.  Triple P much prefers fried but will cope with scrambled, although it is very difficult to get good scrambled egg in a restaurant unless prepared to order and impossible in a hotel buffet where it takes on the same consistency as foam rubber .

Hotel Inter-Continental, Lusaka, December 2010

Poached eggs used to be more popular when Triple P was young but now they are the breakfast equivalent of wearing a bow tie every day; slightly pretentiously eccentric.  You do sometimes get them in places that serve Eggs Benedict as part of a cooked breakfast.  We've never been convinced by Eggs Benedict: Hollandaise sauce is too rich for breakfast and the muffin is too thick a platform for the egg.

A goose egg under way, June 2013

We prefer two fried eggs but have been known to take one large egg (such as a goose or turkey egg) once in a while.  Currently we prefer duck eggs to hen's eggs.  If we are having scrambled eggs we prefer three or even four, if they are small.  We tend to eat scrambled egg as a separate meal without all the constituents of a Full  English, except perhaps some chopped ham.

Omni Hotel, San Franciso, October 2009

We have also had a three egg concoction once but that was small eggs cooked as one, giving a thicker white.


Bongusto Restaurant, London, March 2009

People in most countries can produce a good fried egg but when it gets to bacon Britain really does reign supreme.  What passes for bacon in most countries are dark brown, greasy strips of fat cooked until they are brittle, like baked shoe leather and about as tasty.  Proper bacon for a Full English should be back bacon.  Each rasher is made up of one part (the larger part) of pork loin and one part of pork belly. The American brittle bacon is exclusively the fattier pork belly variety.  In fact, quite often we jettison the pork belly piece and just have the pork loin medallions. Properly cooked bacon should be soft not brittle.  Some foreign hotels and restaurants serve ham instead of proper bacon but this is a poor substitute.


Grand Cafe Royal Exchange, London, November 2011

You can't have a Full English without sausages (plural, please) otherwise it is just bacon and egg or a cooked breakfast.  These is nothing wrong with bacon and egg but it makes a lightweight start to the day without some serious meat to back it up.  Sadly, most Full English breakfasts in restaurants or cafes are let down by the sausage, which is often of poor quality compared with the bacon.  This is an area where the home cooked version triumphs as you have complete quality control.  We get our sausages from prize-winning sausage maker Maurice Jones & Sons in Oatlands, Surrey. Vastly superior to anything from a supermarket.

Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, October 2009

The variety of sausages you get around the world is startling; including turkey and beef ones in Muslim countries.  In South America we have had spicy ones which while interesting aren't really right.  Worst of all was the sausage meat we had in Philadelphia which was dripping in maple syrup.  Disgusting!


Côte London Bridge, London, May 2014 

We admit that we don't always have mushrooms if we are cooking breakfast at home but there is a good argument that they are a complusory ingredient for a proper Full English breakfast.  Americans can find the fact that we have mushrooms for breakfast odd.  In fact they are one of the newer ingredients as they have only been cultivated in Britain since the mid-twentieth century.  What you get varies between whole or halved small button mushrooms, sliced larger cup mushrooms or a whole or sliced large flat mushrooms.  We prefer the middle option. Never, never tinned mushrooms though!


Gossips Cafe, Yarmouth Isle of Wight, August 2011

These are another compulsory ingredient (even more so than mushrooms).  Fried or grilled they should be soft to the point of disintegration.  They should not have, as some hotels offer, cheese on them.  They should also not be tinned.  There is an increasing fashion in London for more upmarket places to serve plum tomatoes sliced in two vertically but, again, this is a bit prissy.


Sainsbury's Cobham, May 2014

This is usually served on the side but Triple P likes it as an integral part of the full plate.  When he was small he would be given egg, bacon and fried bread for breakfast but fried bread is disappearing before the onslaught of the healthy eating brigade.  Frying a slice of bread at least doubles the calories but as a typical Full English breakfast come in at about 1000 calories plus that really isn't going to matter that much.  Triple P tends to have toast rather than fried bread as it is more absorbent for soaking up bean and tomato juice etc.

Baked Beans

Churchill Cafe, Whitehall, London, November 2011

Baked beans seem such a staple of a Full English that we were genuinely surprised by Mr Anonymous maintaining that they shouldn't be included.  He is not alone, our research has shown, but we would venture that such people are in the minority now and that their insistence that beans should only be eaten after 6.00 pm is rather akin to those who insist on saying "an" when the following word begins with an "h".  They are technically correct, perhaps, but English Breakfasts, like the English language is constantly evolving.  Britain makes and consumes more baked beans that any other nation on earth; to the extent that last month a government minister here was trying to encourage people to eat less of them to avoid the excess generation of gases that contribute to global warming.  We are not joking!  The UK version of baked beans is very different from those served in the US which have more than twice the sugar in them.  In fact Heinz Baked Beans, which were first imported from America and sold as a luxury item in Fortnum & Mason in the nineteenth century, are now exported to the US, having been made here since 1928.  They started to become part of a cooked breakfast in the late sixties and we would say that, despite the naysayers, they are now completely integral to the Full English breakfast.


Giraffe, South Bank, London, February 2011

These are another controversial ingredient.  Probably, traditionally, bubble and squeak, a fried mixture of shredded potato and cabbage was included in earlier versions of the Full English.  This has now largely been supplanted by American hash browns, saute potatoes or chips (French fries for our American cousins).  We have had shredded potato mixed with other things in foreign hotels.

Royal York Hotel, Toronto, August 2010

We would venture that chips are really only served when the Full English is served as lunch as an "all-day breakfast".  This is certainly the practice in the breakfast Nirvana that is Eegon's of Cowes.  For their larger breakfasts they serve saute potatoes.  We have never been that fond of hash browns but they are more digestible in the morning than solid potato.  Producing potato dishes as an accompaniment to a Full English at home really does add an extra level of complexity to the whole performance, however.

Black Pudding

Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh, September 2013

Is black pudding (a blood sausage) a part of an authentic Full English or a regional variation in the manner of cockles (yes, really) in Wales, Soda Bread in Ireland or haggis in Scotland?  The traditionalists maintain that it should be included and, certainly, it was in the cooked breakfasts served at Agent Triple P's college, although that had a lot or people from the north of England as students.  Triple P, being from the south, thinks that this is a northern affectation but it certainly adds to the finished article.

Eegon's, Cowes, Isle of Wight, August 2013

So, according to some writers, these are the "magic nine" ingredients which transform a "cooked breakfast" or "fry up" into a "Full English breakfast".  As we have seen, however, there is not universal agreement on this.  We have also had, onion rings and steak included, especially in the terrifying Steakfast from Eegons; the only cooked breakfast in the world we were unable to finish.

At home, January 2014

Latterly, since we have been spending more time in Scotland we have added haggis to our home cooked breakfasts; usually in small fried slices but occasionally using the leftovers from a complete haggis.

Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh, February 2013

Interestingly, in checking through our photographs we realise that we haven't actually had a breakfast with all the magic nine in it.  The closest we have got was this superb example from Scotland which had haggis but no potato and fried bread instead of toast.  Something to strive for still!  

1 comment:

  1. So the sun must be well over the yardarm before we can have baked beans! Does this apply to sploshing as well?
    Great study, I agree that the sausage is often the Achilles heel, in Britain anyway.