-The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith

classic meals >

the Full English Breakfast

the ding-dong monotony of "bacon and eggs" alternated with "eggs and bacon" of many English breakfast tables is wholly inexcusable, so easy is it to provide variety with the exercise of a little consideration

Colonel A. Kenney Herbert ("Wyvern")
Fifty Breakfasts, 1894

English breakfast - a substantial breakfast including hot cooked food such as bacon and eggs

Oxford English Dictionary

full English breakfast        Whenever I get back from travelling abroad the two things I look forward to most are a Full English Breakfast and a curry (not together you understand). And I'm not alone. If you go to any of the popular holiday destinations in Spain you can find plenty of cafés offering their version of the Full English. The English may be quite happy eating paella or chorizo or grilled sardines for their lunch but the "continental" breakfast of pastries or bread rolls with jam just doesn't seem to hit the spot. I try not give in to temptation myself and prefer to wait until I get home by which time a Full English tastes even better. Besides, the Spanish are maestros at cooking eggs and you don't notice the bacon is missing if you have a slice of their delicious jamón on the side (!).

So, what exactly is the Full English Breakfast?

The absolute classic is fried eggs, rashers of back bacon, sausages and fried bread. Accompaniments can include fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and possibly, in some parts of England, black pudding (a type of blood sausage).

Now, at this point, some readers will be shouting at their computer "what about the baked beans?". I say in reply baked beans as part of an English breakfast are a travesty. They are a cheap alternative to tomatoes and mushrooms and were introduced by roadside cafés and cash-strapped B & B's to bulk out the plate at the lowest possible expense (to them not you, the customer, of course).

Another, more recent, perversion of the Full English is the introduction of American-style hash browns instead of the fried bread or toast. If that's to your taste then fair enough but just don't pretend that it's still a proper Full English!

If I am going to stray away from the traditional formula I tend to follow the Irish route and go for the "Ulster Fry". I'm very partial to Irish soda farls or potato cakes in place of the fried bread. Otherwise it's grilled bacon, sausages, fried or scrambled eggs and grilled tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms for the Smith household.

I have read many blogs criticising the Full English Breakfast and most of them are concerned with how high it is in animal fats and salt. Well, OK, I can hardly argue that a Full English is health food but it's all about balance. If you eat healthily most of the time then the occasional fry-up is unlikely to have any serious long-term effects. In our household, I cook a variation of the Full English most Sunday mornings for my family and it's one of the most satisfying meals of the week.

But is it all fried? Not necessarily. The bacon and the sausages can be grilled, the bread can be toasted and the eggs scrambled. Grilling the bacon and sausages will release a fair amount of fat, toasting the bread is fat-free (until you butter it of course) and don't forget to use nice healthy grilled tomatoes instead of those sugary baked beans.

Interestingly, the Full English wasn't always an occasional breakfast. You will see from the quote from Colonel Kenney Herbert's wonderful little book "Fifty Breakfasts" at the top of this page that he was trying to encourage his readers to be more adventurous than having bacon and eggs every day which was the norm a century ago. Nowadays the monotonous everyday breakfast is cereal and milk and it is the Full English that has become the special treat.

After such a lightweight meal you're probably still feeling a little peckish so the Full English is usually finished off (especially in English hotels) with buttered toast spread with marmalade.