The concept of a ‘perfect’ Full English breakfast is particularly contentious, having divided opinion for centuries. While the exact components and techniques for preparing a perfect fry up are entirely subjective, there are a few popular points of discussion and a number of rules that should always be followed.
Full English breakfasts can differ greatly by region or even establishment – a greasy spoon will serve a very different (albeit far more gratifying) fry up to a more upmarket pub or restaurant – but certain basic elements are generally agreed upon. First and foremost, unless you’re vegetarian or don’t eat pork, each meat element of the dish should come from a pig: sausages, bacon, and often black pudding. My ideal Full English breakfast is guaranteed to differ from thousands of others, but this guide will tick all of the boxes for cooking a decent fry up. The key is to strategically cook a number of things, in different pans, at the same time. It’s thus highly advisable to read the entire recipe before cooking along.
Full English breakfasts should be unpretentious
For this Full English breakfast recipe, the most important key is to avoid pretentiousness. Sourdough and Vesuvius tomatoes are great, but they’re far from essential here. Sure, if you have access to good quality ingredients then use them, but a great Full English breakfast should be inexpensive, sustaining, and most of the items should be fried. However, I would suggest investing in the best sausages you can find or afford, as well as using free-range eggs if possible. Everything else can be supermarket value brand if necessary – it’s the cooking that makes all the difference, especially when following the recipe’s simple tips to elevate each element of the dish.
Toast or fried slice?
As for what the perfect fry up actually contains, mine favours the holy trinity of sausage, black pudding, and smoked streaky bacon. Let’s be honest, unsmoked bacon is more-often-than-not pointless, and streaky bacon has higher fat content which renders well and is perfect for cooking hash browns and fried bread. Another Full English breakfast debate often arises over the choice between fried bread and toast. But why bother choosing just one? I like a slice of toast (perfect for mopping up the baked beans) and a slice of fried bread – ideally the loaf’s end piece which is so often wasted.
In addition to the meat and bread elements, baked beans are an essential – slowly cooked in a saucepan so the sauce thickens just enough so it doesn’t run into everything else on the plate – as are quickly sautéed mushrooms, a tomato slice or half, and at least one fried egg. (Disclaimer: scrambled is generally my egg preparation of choice, but a fry up calls for a fried egg). Potatoes are another crucial addition to Full English breakfasts across the world. Chips are popular, but unless you’re eating a fry up for dinner, they’re just unnecessary. Instead, I prefer a thick patty of bubble and squeak if I’ve got any leftover vegetables or mashed/roast potatoes, or hash browns. Fried hash browns can’t be beaten, but oven-cooked are a completely reasonably substitution.
Finally, there’s the optional addition of sauce, which is arguably the most subjective element of the entire Full English breakfast. ‘Red or brown?’ is the question on most people’s lips. I’m particularly fond of brown sauce, but that’s another argument for another day.
Full English breakfast recipe
- Large frying pan
- Frying pan (ideally a cast-iron skillet)
- 2 small saucepans
- Oven tray/dish
- 4 pork sausages
- 4-6 rashers smoked streaky bacon
- 2 slices black pudding
- 2-4 large free-range eggs
- 1 large tomato
- 4-6 hash browns
- 8-10 chestnut mushrooms peeled and roughly sliced
- 1 x 400g tin baked beans
- 4 slices bread I like to use the end piece for fried bread
- Neutral cooking oil for frying
- Extra virgin olive oil a splash (for fried bread)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 220C/Fan 200C/Gas 7.
- Add a drizzle of neutral oil to a large frying pan and heat until shimmering. Prick the sausages with a fork, skewer, or cocktail stick and add to the pan. Fry over medium-high heat, turning often, until all sides are golden brown. This should take up to 5 minutes.
- Once browned, transfer the sausages to an oven tray or roasting dish and place in the oven to finish cooking. Cook for 15-20 minutes until they reach your preferred level of ‘doneness’. Check the sausages and turn at least once while in the oven.
- In the pan used to sear the sausages, add the black pudding and cook over a low-medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
- In a separate pan (ideally a cast iron skillet), add the bacon and cook over a very low heat to render the fat. Turn often.
- After 2-3 minutes, turn the black pudding over and also add the tomatoes to the pan, cut-side down. Season with salt and pepper.
- Once the bacon has been cooking for 2-3 minutes, increase the heat and cook to your desired level of crispiness. Once cooked, drain on a sheet of kitchen roll.
- While the bacon is finishing, add the baked beans to a small saucepan, season with salt, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens.
- In another small saucepan, heat a drizzle of neutral cooking oil until shimmering and add the chopped mushrooms along with a generous pinch of salt. Cook over a high heat, stirring often.
- Once the bacon is cooked, fry the hash browns in the rendered bacon fat for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden.
- While the hash browns are frying, remove the black pudding and tomato from the pan and drain with the bacon. Crack the eggs into the pan and cook slowly, basting occasionally to help the top layer of the egg cook.
- When the hash browns are cooked, remove from the pan, drain and add a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil to the pan, heat for a few moments, then add two slices of bread, cut into triangular halves, and fry for 1-2 minutes until golden on both sides. While the bread is frying (in batches, if need be) toast the rest of the bread.
- Remove the sausages from the oven and plate alongside the bacon, black pudding, tomato, and egg. Then use the mushrooms and hash browns as a slight border to separate the beans from the egg, if desired.