I love breakfast. I never used to. When I was at school, eating breakfast used to be time wasted when you could be catching a few more Zs in bed. Breakfast was boring: cereal or toast. These seemed like the only two options when you had just 10 minutes to eat before leaving to catch the school bus. Reminded incessantly by my mum that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, I simply ignored her advice like a typical teenager.
My brothers and sisters didn’t feel the same way. Milk and cereal were consumed at pretty much any time of the day, right up until just before they went to bed. Frosties, Crunchy Nut and Cocoa Pops, even slices of toast with Marmite or chocolate spread; they had these for snacks as well as breakfast.
Unless something prevented him from doing so, my grandad had a boiled egg for breakfast every single morning of his adult life. Quite a phenomenal achievement, considering I can’t imagine many people doing that these days.
My own love for breakfast started one weekend in my late teens. When I was old enough to start going out to bars and clubs, I discovered the rejuvenating powers of a fry-up. This love grew at university when I had the use of my own kitchen and started to experiment with what to cook. Feeding my new friends an unusual or creative breakfast morning, noon or night was special and became very important to me.
Since then, I have visited and had breakfast in many different countries, and tasting the vast array of flavours available continued to widen its appeal to me. My love for breakfast was confirmed.
Breakfast is personal. Everybody has their favourite, although I have found that there are some common popular breakfasts from doing my own research. I have also found that breakfast is a comforting meal, especially when eaten alone. A meal that only you know how to make, and that way is the best way. You like your porridge your way, you toast your bread the way you like it. You know how to make your favourite cuppa. These are all individual ways of creating the ultimate breakfast, ways that have been developed from your childhood. Or perhaps you started late like me.
Breakfast is the first meal you eat after you wake up: breaking the fast after you have slept. But this meal has broken many a time barrier; as I experienced in my own family when I was younger, breakfast isn’t just for the morning. Breakfast is now eaten at any time of the day. Bars, pubs and cafés all serve breakfast around the clock, you can have it whenever you fancy it. As well as inviting our friends round for dinner, we now also invite them round for brunch. Bloody Marys, hot croissants, omelettes and a bacon hash – fancy coming over? The brunch scene is booming, and breakfasts are where it’s at.
The collection of recipes in this book are to be eaten whenever you want to eat them. There are so many favourite breakfasts, and too many to fit in here. From my experience of working as a chef across Europe, I have tried to give you a wide spread of flavours, and hopefully many surprising and delicious dishes that you can either share with your friends or just enjoy by yourself.
The egg is a vital ingredient in any breakfast, and one that often takes centre stage – and rightly so.
The importance of freshness: You may have experienced a bad egg once in your lifetime. But to continually experience really good eggs, you need to understand how important a fresh egg is. There is nothing like picking a warm egg straight from a chicken pen, poaching it in some boiling water and eating it on buttered toast. I don’t add vinegar to the water when poaching an egg this fresh, there’s no need as the egg whites hold together naturally and don’t disperse.
Fresh eggs have only a small air pocket inside the shell and as an egg gets older, the air pocket becomes bigger. Therefore, the bigger the air pocket, the older the egg and the more the egg will float when immersed in water. A really fresh egg sinks to the bottom of the water and almost lies on its side. An egg that sinks to the bottom but tilts up slightly (the air pocket has grown), is up to a week old. If it floats in a vertical position, you’ve got yourself a relatively stale egg but it’s still edible. If the egg floats completely, then plop it in the bin.
I recommend eating eggs within two weeks of laying. Make friends with someone who has chickens, or get to know a local farm shop. This is how you can be sure of knowing the freshness of your eggs.
Cracking it: Are you a one-hander, or is there a certain surface in your kitchen that you like to crack your eggs on? Perhaps you have a gadget or just simply use the side of the bowl. Cracking eggs can go wrong quite easily. Try quail eggs; they are fiddly little things, but worth it when you have mastered how to crack them. Pierce the shell with a small, sharp knife and gently saw a little line horizontally across it, about 1 cm long. You can now pull the shell apart with your fingernails. If you don’t have any fingernails, then keep sawing until you can get your fingertips in to break the shell.
To help prevent the yolk from breaking, crack the egg into a small cup or bowl (I use an espresso cup) first. Ta da!
Ultimate guide to poaching in numbers: This is a foolproof way of poaching eggs, especially for more than four people – you can even take it up to 16 if you have two large frying pans!
Using a large frying pan, fill it with water up to 2 cm deep, this will barely cover the top of the egg but this is what you want. Now bring the water up to a gentle simmer and add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar. This helps the eggs stay together. Crack your eggs into the simmering water one at a time or use a cup and bring the water back up to a boil. Once the water is boiling leave your eggs to cook for one more minute then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for a further 3 minutes. If the eggs look a little raw on top, splash a little bit of the hot water over using a spoon. The best bit now is that you can keep these eggs resting in the water for a good 3–4 minutes to keep warm whilst you prep your toast.
As for lifting them out the pan, use a spatula with holes, this helps drain the liquid away. An alternative to make sure you never have soggy toast is to put your egg on some kitchen paper first before then picking up to place it on top of you toast. Enjoy serving perfect poached eggs.
How to boil the perfect egg: To make the perfect soft-boiled egg, fill a saucepan with enough water to completely submerge the egg. Add a pinch of salt (mainly for precaution; if your egg cracks, it will help keep the white inside the shell). Bring the water to the boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Before you lower in the egg, warm the shell in the steam for a few seconds. Depending on how soft or hard you want your egg, cook it for between 4–7 minutes:
–4 minutes: yolk very runny; white a bit runny too.
–5 minutes: yolk runny; white just a little runny.
–6 minutes: yolk creamy with firm tinge; white firm.
–7 minutes: yolk and white both firm.
The final bake off: There are lots of myths about cooking eggs and how to store them, but one rule of thumb is never bake with a cold egg. They encourage splitting and need to be brought up to room temperature if they have been stored in the fridge.
I don’t put my eggs in the fridge. For one, I can’t stand that eggy holey thing in fridge door. The space is much better used for even more condiments! And two, eggs are not around long enough in my kitchen to even think about wanting to make them last any longer. However, if you do put your eggs in the fridge, make sure you warm them up again by sitting on them for at least 5 minutes. Just kidding. Take them out of the fridge an hour before you start to bake.
Please note that I use large, free-range eggs in my recipes unless otherwise specified; free-range eggs are always deliciously tasty and are kind to the hen.
If you are into your gadgets, then you might be aware of the eclectic mix of breakfast paraphernalia that is out there on the market today. When I came to write this part of the book, I had a lovely little list of what I thought were essential utensils for making breakfasts.
I had the spatula: the round one with the holes in, and also the square one, which is good for flipping.
I had the large palette knife: again useful for flipping, but flipping pancakes especially.
The espresso cup: necessary for breaking eggs into.
The small frying pan, the large frying pan, the flat hotplate and the griddle pan. All very useful for frying and poaching eggs, to make omelettes, pancakes and even producing fabulous waffles.
Tongs. Useful for turning bread over if grilling. Helpful for turning sausages and bacon too.
The egg cup. A vessel used to put your boiled egg in to have with your soldiers.
A decent deep muffin tray.
A whisk, to whisk your eggs.
An egg timer.
I then remembered a random wedding present, which, I must admit, has never been used. Two metal hearts, which you can put in a frying pan to poach your eggs in. I’m not one for Valentine’s Day specials, but if you are, then perhaps this is something you can use to make your dear loved one a heart-shaped egg!
This then led me to the internet to see if there were any other funny gadgets that one might use – or more likely, never use! I’ve kept it to a minimum of three.
Ceramic bacon cooker. A ceramic mug with a built-in fat catcher at the bottom, which you hang bacon on then put in the microwave to cook it. Now why didn’t that take off?!
The pancake pen. A plastic bottle that holds your pancake batter, with a small hole at one end. You squirt out your mix into fun patterns or the letters of your name!
A toast stamper. Exactly what it sounds like, a stamp in many different guises that you stamp on your toast to make a pattern.
Most cooking utensils are useful, breakfast gadgets like these, however, are not.