The Fry-Up

The traditional English breakfast and its relatives


This meal is not quite as unhealthy as it may sound. It can be made with one tablespoon of butter (or the fat rendered from a single strip of bacon), and the rest of the fat depends on what you choose. It ranges from the traditional English breakfast, which always includes a couple of eggs, to the Mixed Grill, featuring different meats and suitable for a dinner. What actually goes into it is up to you. It is made in a large frying pan, and requires as long as it takes to cook what you have selected. I make it with butter, but olive oil can be used instead, as is done in Spain.

A typical English breakfast includes one or two sausages and rashers of back bacon, two fried eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms, with toast and marmalade on the side. Sometimes included are black pudding (a delicacy made from blood and meal) and fried bread (toasted bread soaked in fat, good under an egg). The actual ingredients cannot be obtained in the U.S., but a similar dish can be made using breakfast sausage links and strips of bacon. Scrambled eggs can substitute for fried. Requests for poached eggs with the fried breakfast are met with incredulity in English B&B's, so it is best to do this only at home. Canadian bacon, a smoked pork loin, is no substitute for back bacon, for some reason unavailable in North America, but is good on its own, and certainly can make part of a fry-up.

A typically American addition is hash browned potatoes, a survival from the days of fried pork and potato chips as the American all-purpose meal before the Civil War, when potato chips meant the same in the U.S. as in England. To make them, peel and dice a red potato, and boil it until just soft. Drain, and add to the fry-up while cooking the sausages. Season with freshly-milled pepper and salt, and fry until slightly browned. There are other ways to do the potatoes--frozen shredded patties are available--but they are not as good.

Since Dutch tomatoes are not available in the U.S., the next best thing (probably better) are the Roma tomatoes from Mexico. Cut off the top, and cut the rest into three slices transversely. They take very little time to cook. Wash and cut the mushrooms into convenient pieces (e.g., halve small ones longitudinally). I don't think a little washing hurts the mushrooms, especially when they are going to be fried. I know what they are grown in. Then fry for a while, turning. These are good ingredients, not used enough in the U.S..

For more of a mixed grill, try adding things like liver, kidney, lamb chop or steak. The best liver is lamb's liver (very difficult to find in the U.S) but any will do: pork, chicken, calf or beef, in order of delicacy. Chicken liver is a good choice in the U.S., since it is available frozen and cheap. Beef kidney is so cheap that it can be trimmed to yield only the choicest pieces, while lamb's kidneys are a rare delicacy. If you like offal flavors, try kidney for sure! The steak should be frying steak, rump steak (sirloin) or fillet steak (beef tenderloin). The idea is to have several different varieties, so the pieces should be of modest size, no more than 3 oz each for four pieces in all, or less if you are not a glutton. This generally discriminates against pork and veal chops, which would be good in principle, but are big. Everything should fit in the frying pan (for one person). With a good mixed grill, you can omit the eggs, but keep the sausages and perhaps the bacon, for flavour.

There are some adventurous ingredients that I have not tried yet, so cannot guarantee that they would be satisfactory. Among these are shrimp, tofu, and eggplant, all of which I like and which fry successfully, and could be part of a mixed grill if not of breakfast. Martha Stewart has been observed frying green beans, and chiles are another possibility. This would give the fry-up a little green, which it needs.

Nothing has been said here about the traditional Scottish breakfast, which is quite different but equally tasty and rather healthier.


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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 16 June 2002
Last revised