To truly appreciate the greatness of a proper fry up, you really need to escape the safety of the basic English Breakfast and venture over borders to the morning staples of the wider British Isles. Journeying to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland even, and probably not Wales. As the only way to truly appreciate the Best British Breakfast is by bringing together a compilation of all the best bits.
The Fry Up Police
Throughout I will tackle many of the most divisive issues in British society, like “how you take your tea”, “that’s not traditional”, and “do baked beans belong on the plate”. Issues I’d follow relatively regularly in a group called the ‘Fry Up Police’ before I was banned for posting a ‘fry up on a pizza’ which broke their ‘sandwich’ rule. Fortunately, the group does get zucced on occasion, and I managed to sneak back in. How’s a pizza a sandwich anyway…
The Full English Breakfast
Beginning with the basics, the traditional English Breakfast, or fry-up as it’s better known, which Google tells us traditionally includes “fried eggs (not scrambled), sausages, back bacon (not streaky), tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread and often a slice of white or black pudding. It is accompanied by tea or coffee and hot, buttered toast”. This is the bare bones of pretty much every British breakfast.
Do Baked Beans Belong on a Fry Up?
I’m starting with the Great Baked Beans Debate. Should beans be on the plate, touching everything, or served separately in a ramekin? Or should they even be there at all? Are they traditional? Well, given that baked beans originated in America, I’d say no. But they do work well with bread heavy fry-ups, and they give that bit of sauciness for those that want a bit of sauce. But, alternatively, you could just use sauce.
What Sauce is Best with a Fry?
Unanimously, HP Sauce. Invented by a grocer from Nottingham, and named after the Houses of Parliament as depicted on the bottle’s labelling. Nothing is more British than HP sauce. Although local and regional variations of ‘brown sauce’ are also acceptable. However, the same does not go for ‘red sauce’ aka ketchup, which should be nowhere near a British breakfast. I’d sooner do Sriracha. Or maybe a zingy wee chutney.
Toast vs Fried Breads
I often see fry-ups served with toast. To me, this is just weird, and while I do find toast at hotel breakfast tables occasionally, I’ve always seen it more as a starter in anticipation for the fry-up to arrive. I’d never actually eat the two together unless the bread is fried (not toasted). But there are variations of acceptable breads, including fried bread-bread, soda bread, potato bread, and most definitely not pancakes. Seriously? Pancakes? The key is then to perfect the bread to oil ratio, not too dry, but not too greasy. An essential art form in breakfast making.
Potato Bread / Tattie Scones
Potatoes are a culinary staple on these islands, so breakfast without them seems a bit wrong. And while I am fair game for the occasional hash brown, they are also an American import, and the general consensus with traditionalists is that they should be bucked in the bin (alongside the baked beans). Otherwise, both Ulster Fry (Northern Ireland) and the Scottish Fry include potato at potentially its best in potato bread and tattie scones.
The Ulster Fry (Northern Ireland)
The Ulster Fry of Northern Ireland would be a fairly bread heavy fry-up, with its own regional addition of soda bread and potato bread, and you could probably make a sandwich out of it (just don’t show it to the Fry-up Police with their silly sandwich rule… how’s a pizza a sandwich). As well, another great addition to the Ulster Fry is the vegetable roll (not pictured because it’s rare to find), but, despite its rather off-putting name, it is in fact like a seasoned beef pudding/sausage with a bit of leek and onion in it. It’s a bit like a mini beef burger.
Serious About Sausage
For most folk, the traditional breakfast sausage is the king of the fry up, it’s just irreplaceable. But I’d happily welcome a sausage of any sort to a proper British breakfast, as long as it’s British. In Scotland, where the traditional breakfast sausages are known as ‘links’, the focus is otherwise on Lorne Sausage, or square sausage due to its shape (it’s square). And, like the vegetable roll of the Ulster Fry, it is more like a sausage meat paddy without the casing. A bit like a square pork burger.
It’s all About the Puddings
Another of the more divisive fry-up essentials is black pudding, which, despite being traditional, I find more than not excluded from the plate. And this is partly due to one somewhat off-putting ingredient where black pudding is made from onions, pork fat, oatmeal and pig’s blood (it’s more or less a British blood sausage). However, there is also a blood-free option in a white pudding, but this is rarer, and I find more when crossing British borders where it is a staple in the traditional Irish breakfast.
Full Scottish Breakfast
“Great chieftain o’ the pudding race!” Who’s gonna argue with Rabbie Burns? Again, given haggis is not traditionally found in a fry up, this is a sensitive/divisive addition to the breakfast table. But the peppery, savoury haggis pud could not be more fitting to the Full Scottish Breakfast than anything. Preferably fried. It is also commonly included in tourist/hotel breakfasts alongside regional staples of square (Lorne) sausage, black pudding, and tattie scones. In short, as with any unhealthy eating, the Scottish are hard to beat.
The ‘Healthy’ Bits
Fried tomato? Traditional or not, fried tomato is just a guilt trip on the plate. A reminder of what you should be eating, instead of the delicious fat-fried, carb-filled, meat feast in front of you. Yet it’s still fried. I almost guarantee the fried tomato is the most common (hopefully, only) leftover on every British breakfast plate. Admittedly, tomato purée seems to be a more common addition to modern fry-ups, but it still looks a bit too ripe and fruity for me. I’ll pass on the fruity fry-up thanks. Otherwise, fried mushrooms, preferably button, for the win.
The Full Welsh Breakfast?
Have you ever heard of laverbread? Neither had I until recently. Admittedly Wales is a less-visited region on my travels, and I can’t say I have tried a traditional Welsh Breakfast, or want to. But the main addition to the plate is fried laverbread (aka lava bread) which is like a mush of dried seaweed. So it’s not even bread. Also, cockles, and I really don’t want to go any further. Anyway, apparently laverbread “tastes like salty wallpaper paste” and it’s “why the Severn Bridge should never have been built”. I would try to source a photo here but I don’t want to put you off your breakfast.
How You Take Your Tea?
I’m an anomaly on these islands, in that I don’t actually drink tea. And while I’ve visited many British tea hills in Asia (tea is not grown locally for those not in the know), I cannot for the life of me remember ever drinking British tea. “Coffee, please!”. Otherwise, it tends to be a regional battle on the mainland, between Yorkshire Tea, PG Tips, and Tetley. Then in Northern Ireland, we have Nambarrie tea… Anyway, statistics show that milk no sugar creates the optimum brew, followed by milk and 1 sugar, then black with no sugar is for looneys (a handy tea map here).
The Ultimate British Breakfast
So American pancakes, hash browns and ketchup, will join the cockles and wallpaper paste of Wales in the bin. Then it’s hard to choose between the rest. Personal preference obviously comes into it. But doubling up otherwise seems wrong given the potential on the plate. Ten items also seems like a fair offering inclusive of one sauce.
- Fried Egg
- Back bacon
- Pork Sausage
- Lorne Sausage
- Black Pudding
- Potato Bread (or Tattie Scone)
- Fried mushrooms
- Baked beans (in a ramekin)
- HP Sauce
This, for me at least, is the best British breakfast. “Coffee please”.