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Many countries around the world ridicule British cuisine for being dull and unimaginative; horror stories abound of boiled cabbage followed by spotted dick1, yet modern Britain is a veritable feast of cuisine. As befits a nation which lists curry as one of its favourite foods, the average Briton has a very open mind when it comes to food. Be it Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese or even French, all have been encountered and explored, and the British have cooked, devoured and enjoyed them all. Yet the average Briton is a happy person with a proud history and heritage, all the machinations of Europe cannot remove the love of the three meals that make a subject of Her Majesty British to the core; The Sunday Roast, Fish and Chips and the Full English Breakfast.
A United Nation Divided
Often simply called the 'Cooked Breakfast' in posh hotels, this is perhaps to prevent the annoyance of the Englishman's neighbouring Scots, Welsh and Irish countrymen. However as a Sassenach from the wrong side of the border this Researcher will insist on calling it by its most popular name. If the English can respect and admire our neighbours' heritage then they should also be proud of their own culinary creation. After all the Scottish and Irish can simply add to the recipe to turn it into their equally delicious version!
What makes an English?
The Full English is a very simple meal to make as most of the ingredients are simply fried in a frying pan on the hob2. Yet it is these different ingredients that can cause controversy between the fans of the dish. Some people will say the dish isn't complete without one item while another person would say that that item totally ruins the meal and should never be included. Ultimately it comes down to personal taste and this is the beauty of the Full English - its adaptability. After choosing a few staple items many others can be added to the mix; this blend of different flavours, aromas and textures is what gives the dish its uniqueness.
Personal taste will have a lot of effect on this list, but generally most people would agree that the Full English must contain these essential ingredients:
What can be said about the humble sausage that hasn't already been stated. A regular feature of the Full English, they can range from a stunning hand crafted 'banger' that is the absolute pinnacle of the butchers art, right down to a plastic, sawdust and testicle filled piece of gristle! Whatever the quality they all taste great when added to the plate, apart from the vegetarian ones which are just wrong3!
Mmmmmmm bacon, it can be streaky or back, air cured or smoked. These salty pieces of dead pig goodness just work so well in the breakfast. Whether they are just slightly cooked, full-on crispy or the sole survivors of a thermonuclear holocaust, it all comes down to the eater's personal taste - but that controversy can be left for another time and place. The bonus is that leftover bits of bacon can be placed between two pieces of toast and saved as a 'bacon sarnie' for later!
Debate rages on which cooking method is best for the common egg. After many years holding the fort secure, fried eggs have recently come under serious assault from the scrambled egg. The simple scrambled egg has become a gourmet item after much fuss was made by some celebrity and TV chefs about the best way to cook them. However outside of the battle for top spot there is still strong support for the simple hard boiled egg. Meanwhile the loyal army of the omelette is slowly gathering support; plans are afoot to march on the capital and stake its claim to the throne of top cooked egg. As for the poached egg they will work just as well even if it is a terribly cruel thing to do, drowning innocent eggs without their protective shell - what sort of a sadist are you?
Beans, beans, the musical fruit...The more you eat, the more you toot! The more you fart the better you feel, So lets eat beans at every meal! Ok, so they're not strictly a fruit but a nice scoop of baked beans works perfectly with the dish. They add a little liquid to the plate as a counter to the dryness of the bacon.
The humble piece of burnt bread has been around for centuries. In fact in some of the places where you can buy a Full English it does appear to have been around for centuries. However, well-cooked fresh toast is a joy to behold and even better to taste and though it may not be pleasant eating the buttery cardboard that is bad toast, it at least provides a nice alternative texture to the next item on the plate...
It's amazing the difference these little chaps can make to the Full English. Properly cooked fresh mushrooms can create an alternative taste explosion amongst the mouthfuls of meat that make up the rest of the dish. However, too many places use cheap tinned mushrooms; these nasty little fellas sit lurking in the corner of the plate like a little nest of slugs awaiting to pounce on your tomato.
Who says that a Full English isn't healthy? A tomato is a fruit after all and they do say you should eat five portions of fruit or vegetable a day. Just don't tell them that it tastes so much better after it's been cut in half and cooked over a high heat in a frying pan. No, the little half of tomato is a good way of redeeming yourself in the eyes of the diet doctors. At least it might attract their approval before you bite down on the next item...
More bread product yet this time it also includes cholesterol, fat, oil and grease. In fact your poor doctor would probably have a heart attack if he knew you were just looking at a plate containing fried bread. Throw an apple at him quickly and run away. The wonders of fried bread should not be missed. Just be careful when stabbing it with your fork, a piece of shattered fried bread was once clocked travelling faster than a .22 calibre rifle bullet. In fact it can become very dangerous especially when found embedded in the wall just milimetres from the head of the scary looking biker at the next table.
Tea or Coffee
This can be another major battle between the diehard old guard and the new-age man. Tea was the building block of the British Empire and helped the birth of a nation. A nation which in turn would increase the worldwide dominance of coffee, so much so that it has even started to edge out the Tea as the drink of choice on its own home turf. Things have probably settled down a bit now and either makes a good accompaniment to breakfast.
No Full English is complete without its condiments. Black and white pepper should be in abundance as should a nice little salt cellar, or (if you're feeling posh), fresh ground sea salt. Yet none of these condiments measures up to the king that is the sauce. Whether you like Red or Brown or even a mix of both, no Full English is complete without the Ketchup or the Brown Sauce puddle4.
The following items can also appear in a Full English. That's the beauty of the dish - each component adds a new flavour to the mix.
ChipsChips are a popular component of the Full English, but not the kind of chips that American readers might be thinking of. These are what in America are called French fries. Yet even then this is wrong; the simple French fry is too long, too thin and too stringy to work in a Full English. They should be proper British chips - thick, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside5.
Sautéed PotatoesIf the Chips don't do it for you, why not go continental? Take a potato and slice it into 1/4" thick slices and fry. Delicious dipped into the yolk of a fried egg.
Hash BrownsStill in the world of the humble potato6, the Hash Brown makes a nice addition to the Full English. The shredded potato within one should be nice and soft, while the crispy shell on the outside should provide a nice target to crunch your teeth into.
Orange JuiceMany fans of the Full English swear by a small glass of OJ with their brekkie. Yes it may be the healthiest thing for miles around but the sharp tang of the fruit can help to cleanse the palate between mouthfuls. That coupled with the vitamin C content to help clear up the hangover makes orange juice a worthy addition.
Black PuddingBlood – many people faint just at the sight of the stuff, so why on earth would anyone want to eat it? Well, because7 it's delicious. Ignore your prejudices, forget what it's made of, just slice up that bag of boiled congealed blood, fry up the slices and try the stuff. Mmm, lovely.
HaggisWhen the wild Haggis is added to a Full English the meal is absolutely transformed. The beauty of these little roaming beasties is that they are able to entirely change the national identity of the dish. It will instantly lose its English heritage and become a proud follower of the bonny prince. All hail The Full Scottish!
White PuddingWell the less said about this the better. Similar in construction to a Black Pudding this mix of meat, suet and oatmeal is very popular within the Full Irish and can also often be found with the traditional Full Scottish breakfast. Just don't ask about the sheep's brains that are traditionally used to bind the mix together.
BeefburgerHeresy! we hear you scream; a good Full English should look like a Porcine grave yard - yet that would make a normal Full English inedible for our Jewish and Muslim brothers, so why not just ditch the swine and replace it with some of the Bovine world's freshest ground and compressed meat product. Just don't tell our Hindu friends.
Bubble and SqueakNo, this is not something that happens when you try to boil a rodent. Bubble and Squeak is one of those famous 'leftover' meals made from potato and whatever other vegetables are left over from Sunday lunch - usually cabbage. It is all mashed up and cooked together to form a delicious patty. This can then be added to your Monday morning Full English breakfast...perfect to fill up on before that oh so important meeting with the new client.
LiverEat your liver or you can't have any pudding...those dreaded words that many a child has heard. Yet some connoisseurs insist they must have a piece of offal on their plate else their Full English isn't complete. Well maybe it's just benevolence, they don't intend to eat the liver themselves! Instead they plan to slip it under the table to the loyal pooch waiting at his master's feet for some tasty titbits to fall from heaven.
Fried OnionsIt's enough to make you cry, or at least chopping the raw onion in the first place is. Some people swear by a nice helping of chopped fried onions with the Full English and who are we to complain. Sliced and cooked until the natural sugars begin to caramelise they'll accompany any ingredient, just please don't overcook them else you'll just end up with a lot of little pieces of charcoal crunch.
Where to have a Full English?
The true connoisseur of the Full English knows the best places are not the expensive London hotels who cook fancy breakfasts and charge equally fancy prices. Nor will they sink so low as to go and have one of the cheap breakfasts in the little cafeterias lurking in many of the nations supermarkets8. The victims of the supermarket breakfast soon learn that many of these places produce an abundance of cardboardy toast and snaily ‘shrooms. No the true fan of the Full English9 will be in their local 'caff' or 'greasy spoon'. This could be a simple little café on the high street, or one of the dying breed of old-school transport cafes - the true Mecca for Full English fans. The caff will always be the best; it'll have many loyal customers because the food is always fresh, spectacular and cooked to perfection. Remember the best Full English will be quite greasy but for the small amount of money you'll have paid it'll be stunning. You should prepare yourself for a taste explosion that will make you wish you could never eat anything else again!
It has to be said that the Full English is perhaps just the tiniest little bit unhealthy. Okay, it has to be shouted loud - in reality most of your arteries are probably choking at the mere thought of one. If you actually settle down to eat one, your poor heart will go into a panic as it realises it's about to drown in a high fat, high cholesterol sea, but always remember the old adage, everything in moderation. You can eat a Full English occasionally without doing yourself harm, just not too often, and perhaps it'd be good to go on a long run afterwards - just not too soon afterwards. Besides the run might help clear that hangover that refuses to go away - happy eating!