The key components of an English breakfast include:
- white egg
- sliced fried red tomatoes
- baked beans (in cans)
- fresh salted mushrooms
- fried or roast potatoes
- fried bread
- black pudding
An English breakfast may also include:
- stewed prunes
- buttered toast, often spread with orange marmalade
- orange juice
Usually the eggs are fried, but for a lighter, more healthy option they can be poached. The bacon can also be fried, but traditionally it is more often grilled until slightly crispy. A fresh tomato, halved and then grilled until browned, is much nicer than the tinned tomatoes or tinned baked beans so often substituted, and hot toast completes the meal. Traditionally it is served with tea (with milk), although coffee and orange juice are usually also offered.
A variant on the above, called the “Full English Breakfast”, is a more substantial version which additionally contains a selection of the following:
- one fried egg
- one English-style sausage
- two rashers of crispy fried bacon
- a portion of fried mushrooms (browned)
- two slices of fried black pudding (a type of sausage made with pig’s blood)
- half a tomato, fried until brown
- one slice of fried bread (a slice of white bread fried in oil, preferably the oil used to cook the bacon)
By the time you have added in all these (and other fried items such as hash browns, bubble and squeak or beans), it can become quite a plateful. Really large full English breakfasts (often colloquially known as “fry-ups”) are a staple of cheap cafés, themselves known as “greasy spoons” – a reference to the lack of quality and low standards of cleanliness of the establishment. True aficionados, however, often maintain that the best examples of a fry-up can only be found from such establishments, and many believe this is a result of the frying fat being reused and thus infused with the flavours of the dish.
Origins of the English Breakfast…
The traditional English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and other ingredients is ubiquitous the world over. Cafés and hotels all around the world offer a version of “English breakfast”, often far removed from what might be considered conventional!
The English breakfast as it is known today is based, like so many British traditions, on what became popular in the Victorian era. Victorian home economist Isabella Beeton gives the following advice in The Book of Household Management (1861) about breakfast:
||The following list of hot dishes may perhaps assist our readers in knowing what to provide for the comfortable meal called breakfast. Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.
Nowadays far too few Englishmen start their day with such a large meal. Surveys cited in The Magpie history of food (Audrey Ellis, 1977) indicate that in 1958 50% of British families still started their day with a cooked breakfast, but by 1976 it had fallen to 18%. More recent surveys (within the last 2-3 years) put the figure today at less than 1%.
The English breakfast is still a mainstay of boarding houses, hotels and cafés in Britain, however, and will always be found on the menu of most such establishments. There are also many varieties across the United Kingdom and Ireland, including the Full Irish, Ulster Fry, Full Welsh, and Full Scottish, among others.
A full English breakfast with fried egg, sausage, white and black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, toast, and half a tomato
A traditional full English breakfast includes bacon (traditionally back bacon), fried, poached or scrambled eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried bread or toast with butter, sausages, and baked beans. Black pudding, bubble and squeak and hash browns are often also included. In the North Midlands, fried or grilled oatcakes sometimes replace fried bread.
The food is traditionally served with a mug of tea; more recently coffee is an alternative.
As nearly everything is fried in this meal, it is commonly called a “fry-up”. As some of the items are optional, the phrase ‘full English breakfast’, ‘full English’ (or humorously ‘Full Monty‘) often specifically denotes a breakfast including everything on offer.