The full English breakfast is a dish of legendary status. Along with fish and chips, it sits on the high table of classic, definitive British food. In the cafes and restaurants of Britain that open for breakfast you would be pushed to find a single one that does not offer a ‘full English,’ and many will make it all day long.
While the full English breakfast is beloved of the working class who need this level of sustenance to perform active jobs in the freezing cold, the dish has its origins in the grand houses of 13th Century England. Noblemen of old would have their kitchens lay on lavish breakfasts for visitors as a show of hospitality, and, I suspect something of a show of wealth. Hunting meets would routinely consume a full English breakfast before taking to the horses and running about the frozen countryside in search of pheasants.
Now, the British are a schizophrenic lot. While many of us bang on about abolishing the monarchy and shooting the Tory Party by firing squad, The Brits are a set of social spiralists. We like nothing more than emulating the habits and lifestyles of the privileged. How else do you explain all the Range Rovers in Surrey? In that way, the full English is the Range Rover of breakfasts. It has made its way from the tables of the fantastically rich, and onto the plastic-laminated menu of every greasy spoon café in the land. This rise to ubiquity was aided in no small way by the Victorians and Edwardians who were known for their desire to hang onto traditions they considered proper of an English gentleman.
These days, however, the whole social class thing is turned on its head. The working classes eat the full English because they need to; the nobility don’t eat it because they can no longer afford it; and the middle classes open trendy cafés and keep mucking about with it. And by mucking about, I mean adding and removing items while arguing with colossal levels of energy that their ‘version’ is somehow more authentic or better than the next man’s.
We have explained that the full English comes from mixed breakfasts of ancient knights, so it does seem faintly hilarious that anyone can suggest that there is a fixed recipe for the dish. However, if you take a look at the comedic Twitter feed of The Fry Up Police, you will very quickly realise that there are some core elements of the full English that really have to be present in an ‘authentic’ modern iteration – there are also some ingredients that are considered to be pure heresy – and there are a lot of people with very, very strong opinions on all of it.
The English Breakfast Society (EBS) are the self-appointed guardians of the core recipe, and this really should be anyone’s starting point for getting a full English together. The required elements are:
- Fried eggs
- Back bacon (known to Americans as Canadian bacon)
- Black pudding
- Tomato (definitely not canned)
- Field mushrooms
- Baked beans (Heinz, of course)
- Fried bread
Hash browns are commonly added, but the EBS says of that practice:
“We here at the Society believe that hash browns and french fries are used as a cheap breakfast plate filler in badly run cafes, by people who have no respect for our traditions.”
If you really want to add accessory carbohydrate to a full English, then the preferred way to do that would be to fry some bubble and squeak rather than using hash browns. Birds Eye Potato Waffles have no place in the dish at all. Ever. When we made the full English breakfast for this blog, we made damn sure we stuck to the English Breakfast Society’s ‘regulations,’ and we used their suggested ingredient proportions.
Among the ingredients listed by the EBS, it is fair to say that the most divisive is the beans. Heinz did not bake beans until 1901, but it is not ridiculous to suggest that preparations of pulses would not be on the knights’ tables in 1250. Americans, God bless them, cannot understand why beans would be anywhere near a breakfast. Many British people hold the same view. By own brother hates beans with a breakfast, and he is definitely not alone. Lots of restaurants serve the beans in a separate pot, presumably to make things look better because beans can spread across the plate from kitchen to table. But this practice also allows bean haters like our Tim to leave them well alone. For me, I relish the mixture of bean juice and black pudding. For that reason, I subscribe to the EBS, and my fry ups come with baked beans as standard.
For fun, we submitted our own full English (pictured here) to the usual social media commentators. Here is a selection of the feedback:
“Tomato is over, eggs unseasoned (easy point missed). Having said that, black pud looks good, and you used real sausages, kudos. Fried bread does look nice, very good offering! 8/10.” – Rate My Sausage
“Looks great! I prefer toast on a side plate to create plate space, but the picture looks fantastic!” – English Breakfast Society
“Bon fucking jour!” – The FryUp Police
Full English breakfast
- 3 tbsp neutral oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 good-quality sausages
- 3 rashers of dry-cured back bacon
- 1 slice of black pudding
- 150g baked beans
- Half a beef tomato or one salad tomato
- 100g field mushrooms
- 2 large slices of bread
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat one oven to 100˚C and another to 200˚C. Put a big dish in the cooler oven. Heat a deep fat fryer to 190˚C if you have one.
Heat half the oil in a frying pan. Brown the sausages on all sides, remove to a gratin dish and place in the hot oven for 20 mins.
Meanwhile, season the tomato and fry them face down in the sausage pan with a lid on until nicely browned. Remove to the dish in the cool oven.
Fry two triangular slices of bread in the deep fryer until golden (or fry it in the pan with some more oil). Wrap is kitchen paper and place in the dish in the cool oven. Toast the remaining bread in a toaster.
Fry the black pudding and mushrooms together until brown. Remove to the warm dish.
Get the beans on in a small pan to warm, or just nuke them in the microwave until hot. Keep warm.
Snip the bacon fat and fry the bacon until nicely crisped.
Now, take a fresh pan with fresh oil and heat on medium. Crack the eggs in and fry with basting until cooked.
Assemble all the cooked food on the plate. Traditionally, the eggs are put on the fried bread and the beans are not put in any kind of silly ramekin.
Serve with fresh orange juice, fresh coffee or tea and some butter for the toast.