Breakfast in Britain
While he admits to his nation’s culinary shortcomings Sportsman chef Stephen Harris does love a Full English
“One of the biggest problems with food in the UK is that we are so close to France,” writes Stephen Harris, patron chef of the award-winning British restaurant, The Sportsman, in his guest essay in Breakfast: The Cookbook.
“Just as the best way to look gorgeous is to hang out with ugly friends, being next door to France has never helped our reputation. When it comes to food, we are the ugly friend.”
Harris’s appreciation of these differences are all the more acute, as he has spent a lot of time in France, and his restaurant is located on the Kent coast, which means, “I can even go shopping for my restaurant in France, through the Channel Tunnel, and I’m back by 2 pm.”
However, before the opening of that route, most visitors from Harris’ neck of the woods took a ferry crossing to France, which, could, at times, be pretty choppy. In his guest entry to Breakfast the Cookbook, he recalls a particularly turbulent return trip back in 1992.
“The winds that funnel through the English Channel and have, in the past, protected us from foreign invaders, were going to be our fellow travelers. Within half-an-hour of leaving port, the sight on board was like one of those Hogarth paintings of the gin-palace-laden backstreets of eighteenth-century London.”
Once back on dry land Harris and his fellow travellers knew there was just one dish that would settle their stomachs: the full English breakfast. “The combination of salty bacon and spongy sausages, clashing with the creamy, bland egg yolks, all set off with the tang of brown sauce (ketchup is allowed) is also our nation’s number-one hangover cure,” he writes.
“The fried mushrooms are there to add something vegetable without resorting to anything green, and the thickly buttered toast will fill you up. This is all washed down with large mugs of tea. Bubble and squeak (fried leftover cabbage and potatoes) is optional.”
Having dined at some of the best restaurants in the world, Harris still recalls that particular fry-up, served at a simple roadside café, quite fondly; “I don’t think I have ever eaten a more welcome plate of food,” he writes.
Of course, you don’t need to go with all the constituent parts of the full English; our new book lists regional variations such as the full Welsh (switch out some of the fried meat for laverbread and cockles); and the full Scottish (change the bacon, chipolatas and black pudding for in one slice Lorne sausage, two tattie scones and an oatcake.)
And if that all sounds too much, you can always just go with a lighter English breakfast staple: egg and soldiers. This combination of sliced fingers of toast and a soft-boiled egg might not be ‘full’ in any sense, but it is a bit quicker and easier on the stomach. Simply boil an egg for five minutes, spread toast with butter and slice into strips or ‘soldiers’; crack off the top quarter of the egg to reveal the runny yolk, dip the soldiers in, eat and enjoy. It’s as English as anything, no matter where you are.
For more on this dish and hundreds of others, order a copy of Breakfast: The Cookbook here.