There is great danger in using hotels as the benchmark for a nation’s cuisine. I’ve done it myself when traveling in Europe or in the US. In America I’ve wondered how on earth Americans can get through pancakes and bacon every day. In Europe I get the impression that breakfast is not an important meal and so the norm is to empty out the corners of the fridge on to a table. There is no doubt that, wherever I am, I eat far more for breakfast than when I am at home. I don’t have the time to prepare anything before I leave for work and quite honestly I’d rather spend my calories somewhere else.
I often wonder therefore what tourists make of the Full English Breakfast that they are confronted with wherever they stay. They must assume there is a causal link with Britain’s obesity problem. Of course the answer is that no-one in Britain sits down to the FEB every day. It’s a treat and, for me, the love of bacon is at the heart of it. The bacon sandwich is possibly the ultimate comfort food. There is no finer way to start the day than with piping hot bacon well cooked (with a slight crunch to the fat) in a plain roll. No-one could face it every day, surely, but it’s a wonderful occasional treat. And here is the point – the FEB is a treat. It is the idea of the perfect breakfast which once in a while does no harm. I couldn’t face a week of it though!
The classic FEB in my mind begins with the trinity of eggs, bacon and sausage. Although I personally think fried eggs are the authentic method I prefer poached. Bacon needs to be well cooked and with the fat on. Smoked bacon is lovely but I think thick unsmoked bacon is the order of the day. The sausage too needs to be thick, meaty and without too much added to it. The Scots will offer their own take on sausage in addition to link sausage.
From here on in there are a whole set of possible additions these days. Personally I believe less is more. The plate needs to look full but in my view baked beans, canned tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and hash browns should never be seen anywhere near a Full English Breakfast plate.
Fried tomatoes are debatable. I’ve enjoyed maybe 10% of the fried tomatoes I’ve eaten. Frying is a brutal process and the delicate tomato generally doesn’t survive the journey. There is a fundamental problem in that tomatoes are summer produce and the FEB is most enjoyed in the winter. Nevertheless I do think a fried tomato is part of the heritage and you can always leave it on the side. Mushrooms should be whole and cooked so that there is still some body to them – too many are just limp and dripping with water.
Black pudding (and Irish white pudding) separates the audience. I’ll confess that I love black pudding but I suspect I’m in the minority. Cooked well the flavours and textures are so earthy. It’s sad that most diners never touch it after they have asked what it is for the first time.
Fried bread is standard these days but it is another part of the dish that I can happily leave off the plate. I can’t see the pleasure in eating hard sharp bread soaked in cooking fat. I prefer French toast or, as this is a Full English Breakfast, I should call it eggy bread. More standard is toast which I’ve never really understood. Toast with preserves is something to be snacked on afterwards or as an alternative. I’ve never seen the point other than perhaps to rest the eggs on.
Condiments are the final debate. For me tomato ketchup goes with bacon while brown sauce goes with everything else. I’m not sure whethere brown sauce appears anywhere else in the world. I don’t remember coming across it.
I’d still always prefer the best bits of the FEB in a roll with possibly some cheese. To be honest I’d prefer the best bits of the FEB on a plate..my own EB…occasionally.