Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas special #13: The morning after

And so we come to the end, on the arbitrary number #13, of my series of Christmas Specials. There were going to be more, but I'm now ill *cough cough* and as good as snowed in, so more cooking is out of the question.

But I thought we'd finish sort of where we started, with a detailed guide that may be either useful or grossly patronising, depending on what state of mind you're in.

I want to talk about BRUNCH, which is something you may be called upon to provide on Boxing Day, or New Year's Day.
Newspaper colour supplements are falling over themselves to suggest that you do kedgeree, turkey soups or exotic duck salad things for your various brunches. When in actual fact, what most of us will reach for is the humble fry-up.

But I disagree that a fry-up is simple. I think a fry-up ranks next to a roast in terms of a thing that seems simple, but is in fact fiendishly hard to get right. And I know it's hard to get right because I've pretty much never been at a domestic fry-up situation for more than 2 people that's gone smoothly.

I mean, unless I'm in charge.

The trouble comes with the multiple elements of the fry-up. Every family is different; you may have a strict no-bean or no-mushroom tradition. Sauces might be utterly verboten on the breakfast table - alternatively HP and fried eggs may verily be the taste of your childhood. But the fact remains that there are a lot of things to co-ordinate and there's inevitably not be quite enough of something, or a couple of things reach the table stone cold.

So the first thing to do when you're contemplating doing a fry up for brunch, is to take complete charge. Don't let other people interfere - I mean, in the nicest possible way - unless it's minor tasks like putting stuff on the table or making tea, because only you can hold all the various timings of things in your head - no-one else. Two people doing a fry-up always equals cold beans.

Then you ought to do things in the following sort of order. This will enable everyone, including you, to sit down roughly at the same time without having to leap up muttering "butter", only to leap up three seconds later, muttering "teaspoons".

I mention the various elements of my preferred brunch fry-up but mentally delete those abhorrent to you as you go along and add in whatever else you're into (fried bread? tomatoes? black pudding? mmmm). Don't let anyone tell you that with a fry-up you've "gotta" have sausages or you've "gotta" have ketchup. Fuck them! It's your brunch.

Allow 30 minutes to get all this done - although it may take 45 if you are doing this for more than 4 people.

So here we go.

1 Fill the kettle and turn it on. Get the butter out of the fridge so it has a chance to be spreadable. Switch on the oven to a plate-warming temperature and then put in

- plates
- a flat dish for bacon/sausages
- a deep round dish for beans

2 Get out a frying pan and a saucepan, with a little oil in the frying pan. Put them both on the lowest available heat.

Some portion control advice:

- Allow three rashers of streaky or two rashers of back bacon per person.
- (Egg advice coming in a minute)
- If you are having sausages, best dig out an extra pan to do them in. My advice is to do chipolatas, as they cook fast. Allow 3 per person. If you insist on doing big bangers, allow 2 pp and leave at least 40 mins for them to cook properly.
- Allow 1/2 a tin of beans per person. I know it sounds like a lot, but it'll all go.
- Allow 1 portobello mushroom or 1 generous handful of button mushrooms
- Allow 1 disc of black pudding pp (unless you know someone is a real black pudding fiend)
- Allow 1 fried/grilled tomato pp, cut in half

3 Get this all on the go and then congratulate yourself - you're 70% of the way to a very well-organised brunch. Celebrate with a cup of tea.

4 Leave the sausages, beans and bacon and whatever else all cooking very gently. I can't stress enough the importance of having everything on a very low or medium heat. You don't want anything to be sizzling fast and giving off billowing blue smoke - that way lies panic and burnt things. Bacon needs to cook very slowly in order to be lovely and crispy - I'm talking 20-25 minutes - because the fat needs to render and then crisp up. Chipolatas mostly don't care what's done to them but if you cook them slowly, there'll never be a situation where something's burning and scaring the pants off you.

5 Now is the critical time to dump knives and forks, mugs, glasses, milk, butter, jam, juice, sugar, teaspooons, mustard, tongs, HP, pepper, ketchup, whatever, on the table. Just pile it up in the middle any old how. Don't bother to set places. Where do you fucking live? Buckingham Palace?

6 If possible, move the toaster, if you have one, and the bread very close to the table where you'll be eating. Or on it, if there's room. Toast is a fiendish little minx and needs to jump straight onto the plate or it'll go cold and horrible. To have the toaster close to the table will cut down on that frustrating time lag between getting your fried egg and tucking in.

7 Things ought to be quite calm in the kitchen at the moment. You could give the beans a stir if you felt like it. Stare at the table and rack your brains for anything anyone might irritatingly request just as you've sat down. Marmalade? A side plate?!

As soon as the beans or anything else looks ready, transfer it to the waiting warm dishes in your oven. No element of your fry-up should ever touch a cold plate or dish. People ought to be drifting into the kitchen by now, drawn by the smell of bacon. One of them could be charged with making a pot of tea/coffee. As soon as the kettle has been emptied, fill it to the brim and get it boiling again. I know - not very environmentally sound, but reassure yourself that you don't normally do this.

8 When your bacon and sausages look done, transfer to more waiting warm dishes in oven and continue to feel *SMUG* at how prepared you are. Now take the frying pan off the heat and set about your eggs. You ought to allow one fried egg for girls and two for boys. PLEASE don't go nuts and accuse me of sexism, it's just a rule of thumb.

I would go as far, here, as to suggest that you don't attempt scrambled eggs, as however many thousands of eggs you scramble, there will never be enough to go round. I don't know why that should be, but it is.

The secrets of great fried eggs are:

1 Crack them into the frying pan while it's off the heat
2 Use a non-stick pan
3 Cook gently. The eggs ought never to make that squelching, popping sound that they do in Ghostbusters when they start frying on Dana Barrett's counter.
4 Cover with a lid to cook the egg tops, so you don't have to flip them, which always results in broken yolks and stress.

If you don't have a lid big enough to cover the pan, get the biggest one you've got and balance one edge against one side of the pan and the other against a wooden implement bridged horizontally across the opposite pan sides.

9 Now is the only point where you have to move fast. A fresh pot of tea might need to be made (but this will be a doddle as you've already filled and boiled the kettle, see?) Anyone who hasn't arrived for brunch ought to be summoned. Hot plates need to be transferred to the table and the first round of toast ought to go down. When the eggs are looking done, get someone else to transfer stuff waiting in the oven (the beans will need a stir) to the table and start dishing out eggs. Leave everyone to help themselves to bacon, sausages and beans and to ask the person who's ended up sitting next to the toaster to stick more toast on.

10 Here you may have to make a second panful of eggs, depending on how many people you're catering for. But that's okay - what with your brilliant plate and dish-warming, some people can get their eggs a few minutes later and still have all the elements of their brunch piping hot.

So that's it. The End. I hope I've made sense. If not, just copy everything off Jamie Oliver - it all works and it's all delicious. I don't know why anyone bothers looking elsewhere.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for sticking with me this year, I know I'm not always easy to have around.


  1. totally genius... timing and flying solo for breakfast is the only way to go... except I disagree about the scrambled eggs... I always fine they are better to do for lots of people and tend to go for 2 eggs per person plus one extra for every 4 eggs, then a very small glug of single cream... but hey that's just me... have a wonderful Christmas Esther and I hope you are well and healthy for the New Year xx

  2. Merry Christmas, lovely Esther! I've enjoyed discovering your blog this year. Hope you have a great christmas xxx

  3. Brilliant as always Esther (and worth waiting for - sorry in a sicky grumpy mood myself this morning!) I have a "one type of eggs" policy - can't handle doing scrambled and fried and poached and whatever else people seem to think is ok to request - far too much like hard work. And totally agree re going alone, much less stressful.....

    I'm getting "this is the beginning of the end" vibes - and as a latecomer to the blog it makes me sad. Anyway, hopefully you'll still be able to write in the New Year but if not, ignore all pressure from the likes of me, and relax before the baby comes. But once the baby has come and you're back in the land of the living, PLEASE carry on writing, you are brilliant and I want to read more of you - be it here or anywhere else.

    (You'll probably keep writing now right up to giving birth and make the above look silly).

    All the best to you and Giles for Christmas and the New Year.


  4. Cracking stuff. I couldn't agree more a fried breakfast is very tricky to get right.

    Love the tip about the toaster. Let someone else deal with toast. To be honest, I prefer people to piss off and leave me alone whatever I'm cooking as they inevitably get in the way and I end up shouting and swearing at them when they don't do exactly what I want or actually do what I want but get in the way or don't do it quick enough. I just end up looking like a more irritable Gordon Ramsay with Tourette's and they think I'm nuts.

    Sod the single cream, double cream in scrambled eggs is great. Not only does it taste fantastic but it pretty much guarantees that they'll be nice a creamy and runny.

    Much easier than waiting for that perfect moment to arrive and then to miss it because you're distracted for that fraction of a second.

    Only discovered your blog this year, Esther and thoroughly enjoyed it. Have a great Christmas!

  5. Genius! Now I actually want to cook a fry-up this weekend, if only to show off. Merry Christmas!

  6. Great advice Esther, in fact brilliant ... At last somebody who talks sense.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and look forward to reading more sense next year.

  7. Best food blog ever. Thank you for your wit, wisdom and great taste in food. You make me smile and eat.

  8. I haven't had a fry up in oooh, at least 3 years... but all of a sudden I'm yearning for one, like the amazing ones we used to do in our student house. Thinking about it, I used to cater for more people, more often and with less stress than I ever do now... perhaps because we were students nobody particularly cared about the outcome!

  9. "Thanks for sticking with me..."

    Noo, other way round - thank you for your posts. I breastfeed and let the baby doze off on my shoulder 10ish most mornings, during which I am physically immobilized but very restless, my sedentary state at odds with the general tempo of the day, when I'm raring to get going instead. Your posts calm me down and provide a very effective & entertaining distraction as well as food for thought, and big grins. I look forward to them everymorning, after the newspaper (print) and breakfast. Almost becoming a ritual.

    I concur with your highly technical dissection of a faultless fry up: perfection with something as simple as this means there is nowhere to hide - which is why I happily pay £20 at the local pub for its greaseless rendition of its Full English (raw ingredients cost £5). Saves washing up and immunises against cold toast!

    You must continue writing next year, please - though of course you might not feel as prolific during contractions and first weeks...

    Good luck with the NCT classes, and have a fantastic Xmas & new 2011 (in lieu of sending you a real card, what address, Coren's of Kentish Town?) xxx

  10. Merry Christmas & happy new year Esther!! I'm so so glad I discovered your blog this year and am looking forward to reading more of your writing in the new year. Thank you so much! Best wishes to you and Giles and baby.

    Also, TOTALLY agree that it's impossible to have two people doing a fry-up. Seriously good advice.


  11. I trust that your husband doesn't indulge in this. He's far too well educated. Great blog.