English Breakfast

When I was a boy, my mother cooked ‘English breakfast’ for our family of five, every morning except Sunday. It has remained one of my favourite meals, both to eat and to cook.

I begin with sausages. I warm a thick flat frying pan and add the sausages. I usually use Toulouse sausage which needs no oil on the pan, and I let the sausage cook gently by itself while I prepare the other ingredients.

Bacon is a must, and for this I go to the butcher. I like both ‘salted’ and ‘smoked’ bacon, but I look for the joint of poitrine which has the most meat. ‘Poitrine’ would be called ‘streaky bacon’ in England. I then ask the butcher to cut the ‘rashers’ about three millimetres thick, In England, I would buy ‘back bacon’, which has more meat and little fat, but it doesn’t seem to be available in France.

If there’s enough space, I cook the bacon with the sausages, and when there’s enough fat in the pan I add tomatoes and mushrooms, and everything cooks gently together.

‘Scrambled’, or ‘buttered’ eggs have an advantage over fried eggs, in that they cook by themselves, and there is no danger of breaking them, but they mustn’t be overcooked. The eggs are first beaten with a little milk and salt. I also add fresh ground black pepper, and sometimes a little garlic. The butter is melted carefully in a bain-marie before adding the egg and milk mix. The eggs don’t take long to cook, and I like to serve them when they’re almost firm, still a little wet. Any longer than that and they become solid and rubbery, so when you think that they are cooked, they have to be served immediately.

Leaning against the wall, behind the frying pan and the bain-marie, plates are warming.

I’m very fond of baked beans, but not at breakfast. I find that the tomato sauce overwhelms the tastes of the other ingredients.

Now there is bread to be sliced to make toast, which is eaten with the eggs and after the main course, with marmalade, marmite, or Julie’s homemade jam.

At some stage by now I will have made coffee; I enjoy cooking breakfast, and I enjoy it even more if I have a cup of coffee by my side. However, with turning the sausages, the bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms, to make sure they cook without burning, stirring the eggs to make sure they cook evenly, but not too long, there is plenty to do. Everything has to reach perfection at the same moment.

If we have guests, Julie plays an essential role. She knows that I prefer to cook everything myself, but she lays the table and butters the toast, perhaps most importantly, she makes sure that nobody talks to me; I need to be able to concentrate on cooking, or something will go wrong. Finally, Julie ensures that everybody is seated as soon as I am serving up; despite having warm plates, the scrambled eggs in particular, can go from perfect to disastrous in almost no time.

An English breakfast combines some of my favourite tastes, and is one of my favourite meals. I think that I enjoy cooking it because I have a reliable method, but always enjoy the excitement of co-ordinating the different parts to a final success, every time, whether I’m cooking for just Julie and myself, or as once happened some years ago, for thirteen people in a windy desert in the Middle East.

Ted