A traditional full English breakfast: a hearty way to begin the day with eggs, sausages, bacon, beans and tomatoes.
Something for the weekend. Or something to cure a hangover. This traditional English breakfast, also known as a fry-up, is probably the heartiest, most copious way of starting the day.
Full English Breakfast with Baked Beans
I remember the first time we had a proper, typical English breakfast. It was on one of our first weeks in the UK, many years ago, and although I knew so much about Britain, I must admit that the breakfast came as a big surprise.
Our typical breakfast would be some müsli with milk or bread with cheese or, when looking for something special, a toast with mushrooms and egg or tomatoes and egg. But beans? Sausages? That was never something I had imagine eating for breakfast.
For some reason I have never really heard of a full English breakfast until the first time I ordered it and had it in front of me. It was on a sunny Sunday, in a very busy restaurant, near the river Thames and the London Eye.
My husband was very keen on finally having English breakfast, so I ordered it as well, despite the fact that beans and sausages didn’t seem like a normal breakfast to me.
But I loved it, what else? It was indeed a very good quality (and rather expensive) breakfast, including most of the things you would normally get on your plate when ordering an English breakfast.
I nibbled on the black pudding, but I must admit that I could not eat it (it was not the taste, but the thought of what it is made of – blood is one of the very few things I am not comfortable with eating), but all the rest was just amazing – especially the beans!
Ever since (for the last 10 years or so), we have had English breakfast countless times. While we were living in London, we took every person who ever visited us out for breakfast, after we came back home, I have made an English breakfast (maybe not a full one, but close) many times and during our holiday in the UK two years ago, we must have had a full English breakfast at least 5 times.
A great way to start the day, you see, especially when on holiday. You eat your breakfast at 9 o’clock in the morning and don’t even begin to think about food again until the evening, thus having more time for something else and saving some money as well, eating out in the UK is definitely pricier than eating out in Germany.
What is a full English breakfast?
The word “full” refers more to the fact that your plate will be full with different kind of foods and not necessarily that you will get all the items that are commonly associated with an English breakfast at once.
The most important items are, of course, the bacon and the eggs, accompanied by those delicious short and thick, meaty British sausages. On top of those you can also have grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms and, depending on where you find yourself in Britain, several other accompaniments like baked beans and black or white pudding in England, potato scones in Scotland, soda bread in Ireland or laver bread in Wales.
Well, the best full English breakfast I had was in Wales, it didn’t have any laver bread, but toast fried in lots of oil, potato scones (sooo good) and baked beans.
Other things that can be part of a full English breakfast are jam or marmalade, marmite, kidneys, kippers, hash browns and the sauces: ketchup or brown sauce. And drinks like tea, coffee or fresh juice.
The history of English breakfast
The history of the English breakfast is century old, tracing its roots back to the 14th century. According to the English Breakfast Society its tradition “first began with the gentry, before being adopted by the Victorians who refined the tradition into an art form.
Then came along the the Edwardians who standardized the ingredients, giving us the English breakfast that we mostly eat today and in doing so, created a truly a national breakfast tradition and an icon of British culinary culture.”
The gentry was a privileged layer of the English society who were proud in keeping the traditions of a typical English country lifestyle. They used to serve an impressive breakfast at social gatherings or other ceremonies, such as weddings. As weddings usually took place in the morning, the breakfast would be the first meal that the newly weds would eat together after the ceremony.
The breakfast table was a good occasion for the gentry to display the wealth of their estates, so you can imagine how loaded those breakfast tables were.
Later on, the Victorians also saw the breakfast as a way of displaying their wealth and social position. They refined the typical breakfast served by the gentry earlier, transforming it into a fine and elegant affair.
But it was during the Edwardian era, during the height of the British empire that the English breakfast started to transform into something more similar to what we know today. It is during this time that it became a standard meal to be served in restaurants and hotels and to use the standard ingredients that we associate with it today.
And another quite traditional thing to do while eating the English breakfast is to read the newspaper. It is perfectly acceptable, part of the tradition to inform yourself about the news of the day while eating breakfast and more or less ignore the other people at the table, except for commenting on something you have just read in the paper. 🙂
How to make Full English Breakfast
English breakfast beans:
The baked bean recipe serves 4, while the fry-up serves 2. If making English breakfast for 4 persons, double the ingredients used for the fry-up.
- Start with the beans, if you want to serve them, and I definitely would, for me they are almost the best part of the breakfast. You can choose a good brand of canned baked beans, if you like, I have done it myself a couple of times. However, making British breakfast beans yourself is really easy and really worth the time.
- You can use either dried beans, which have to be soaked overnight and then cooked until tender or you can make the sauce with canned white beans, both versions are quite delicious.
- You can prepare the beans one day in advance and reheat them before serving.
- When ready for breakfast, start frying up or grilling the sausages. I prefer to grill them in the grill pan, they are fatty enough as they are, I don’t feel I need the extra oil.
- Use rather short, thick pork sausages. English ones would be best but, unless you live in Britain, it might be difficult to get those. So, use a good quality, meaty pork sausage.
- If you want to use frozen sausages, have a look at How to Cook Frozen Sausages. I often do that during the holidays, when I plan to make this breakfast but I know that the shops would be closed, so buying fresh meat would not be an option.
- One sausage per person should be enough if you ask me, but depending on who’s eating you might want to cook a few more. And if the sausages are very small, you can count two per person as well.
- Turn the sausages in the pan to make sure they are nicely browned and crispy on all sides. You should also make sure that they are cooked through before you serve them. Cooking the sausages should take about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size.
- When the sausages are almost cooked through you can add the bacon to the pan, about 2 rashers of bacon per person. This will only work if you cook for two people or so. If you are cooking for more, cook the bacon after you are finished with the sausages and the tomatoes.
- Streaky bacon is good and back bacon, which is somewhat meatier, would be great as well.
- You can fry the bacon as long as you like it, turning it once, it can either be very crispy or less crispy.
- Our German bacon is very very thin, so a couple of minutes on each side are quite enough.
- I use rather small tomatoes when preparing an English breakfast, this way it doesn’t take forever for them to be cooked through. Tomatoes with fewer seeds, like plum tomatoes, are a good choice. One tomato per person should be enough, especially if you are serving fried mushrooms as well.
- Halve the tomatoes, lightly sprinkle the cut side with salt and cook them on the cut side until done and slightly caramelized. Turn them on the other side for a minute or so at the end of the cooking process. I only have one grill pan, the one I use for the sausages as well, so I usually cook the sausages and tomatoes together.
- If they don’t fit together in the pan, cook the sausages in a regular pan and use the grill pan for the tomatoes.
- Always cook the eggs last. I think fried eggs are the most common way to prepare eggs for this kind of breakfast. But, if you like, you can poach the eggs or make scrambled eggs.
- To fry the eggs, use a clean pan and fry them in a little oil or butter. The egg yolk can be runny or set, just the way you want it.
- I prefer to toast the bread in the toaster, just before serving it. For this particular breakfast, I used wholemeal toasties, but the more traditional would be white bread.
- You can go all the way and fry the bread in oil or another kind of fat. I have had it like that, it was delicious, but it is not something I would do at home.
- Prepare the drink just before serving the breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee or English breakfast tea.
How to serve?
- Arrange the breakfast baked beans, sausages, bacon, and tomatoes on a large, heated plate. Add the fried egg on top. Serve the bread on the side. Bring some ketchup and brown sauce at the table together with some butter, jam, or marmalade.
- I went a bit further this time and served the breakfast in the whole meal toasties. Place the lower half of the toasted bread on the plate, put some bacon on it, cover it generously with baked beans. Cut one sausage lengthwise and place the halves on the pile of beans. Add the fried egg and the second bread half. Arrange the grilled tomatoes on the side.
- So, if you are in for a real treat for breakfast anytime soon, do give the traditional full English breakfast a try, it is definitely the kind of meal you should at least try once in your life. And I am pretty sure that you will like it so much.
How to Make Full English Breakfast with Baked Beans
- Baked beans:
- 250 g dried small white beans 8.8 oz, like cannellini (See note)
- 1 onion
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 can tomatoes 400 g/ 14 oz
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons salsa or ketchup
- 3 bay leaves
- 2-4 small pork sausages depending on size and appetite
- 2-4 rashers smoked streaky bacon or back bacon depending on size and appetite
- 2-4 small tomatoes preferably plum tomatoes, depending on size and appetite
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon oil or butter
- salt and pepper
- To serve
- 4 bread slices
- brown sauce
- jam or marmalade
- tea coffee
- freshly squeezed orange juice
- The baked bean recipe serves 4, while the fry-up serves 2. If making an English breakfast for 4 persons, double the ingredients used for the fry-up.
- Baked beans
- Soak the beans in plenty of water overnight.
- Cook the beans in fresh water for about 40 minutes or until tender. The cooking times depend on the size and age of the beans, so keep checking and don't let them turn to mush. Drain well. You can use two cans of beans instead.
- Chop the onion finely. Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the onion until golden and softer, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked and sweet paprika and stir well for another minute.
- Simmer: Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices, cooked beans, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, salsa or ketchup, bay leaves, some salt, and pepper. Simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
- Adjust the taste with more salt and pepper and depending on taste with more sugar. If I make the beans with ketchup, I usually don't need to add any sugar anymore, in the case of salsa I might add a pinch more, depending on the brand of salsa I use.
- Cook sausages: Heat a grill pan. Add the sausages and cook them on medium-low heat, turning often, until nicely browned and crispy on all sides. To make sure they are cooked through I usually cut one in the middle (the one I am eating myself afterward). Depending on the size of the sausages, cooking them might take between 10 and 15 minutes.
- Grill tomatoes: Halve the tomatoes, lightly sprinkle the cut side with salt and cook them on the cut side until done and slightly caramelized. This should take about 10 minutes. Turn them on the other side for a minute or so at the end of the cooking process.I only have one grill pan, the one I use for the sausages as well, so I usually cook the sausages and tomatoes together. If they don't fit together in the pan, cook the sausages in a regular pan and use the grill pan for the tomatoes.
- Fry the bacon in the same pan for a few minutes on each side, until the desired level of crispiness is achieved. Let drain on kitchen paper. If the pan is not large enough, fry the bacon after the sausages are ready, it will not take long.
- Fry eggs: When ready to serve, fry the eggs in a little oil or butter. You can fry them to your liking, the egg yolk can be runny or set.
- Toast the bread.
- Serve: Arrange the beans, sausages, bacon, tomatoes on a large heated plate and place the fried egg on top. Serve with toasted bread, tea, coffee, orange juice, jam or marmalade, ketchup, and brown sauce.
- Or you can serve the breakfast between two slices of toasted bread or toasties as suggested above.