As the new year gets underway, I’m just like everyone else I know these days – worried about money, a little scared about the future and nervous at what the coming year might bring. I’ve stopped reading the papers (again), put off by all the doom and gloom and financial crises I don’t understand. Instead, I retreat to my kitchen, where solace can always be found in the familiar actions of putting a pot of water on to boil for pasta or potatoes, peeling and chopping vegetables for a soup or creaming butter and sugar together for the beginnings of a cake.
Some of the predicted food trends I’ve read about for 2012 are meatballs, doughnuts, cookies for breakfast, bacon candy, beer cocktails and Scotch eggs. It looks like there will be a heavy emphasis on comfort food this year. It’s probably no surprise that given the tumultuous year just gone and the uncertain one ahead, we’re turning to simple pleasures, easily come by. And what could be simpler than a humble egg? Especially one that’s been swaddled in sausage meat and breaded, becoming one of those alchemical dishes that’s more than the sum of its everyday parts.
There’s nothing remotely Irish about Scotch eggs, which were invented by the famous Fortnum & Mason department store in London. They’re commonly found in supermarkets and even petrol stations in England and are popular on picnics, but the first – and only – place I’ve ever seen them is at the L. Mulligan Grocer gastropub in Dublin, where they’ve become a cult favourite amongst regular customers. But like most food you can buy in a pub or petrol station, it’s probably not something you should indulge in too often. Baking them in the oven instead of deep-frying them is one way to make them a little easier on the waistline, not to mention easier to cook.
When I first moved to Ireland, I was surprised at how many home kitchens have a deep fat fryer. Walk into any kitchen shop or department and you’ll see them lined up on the shelves along with toasters and electric kettles. And even though my first attempting at making Scotch eggs by deep-frying them in my Dutch oven was a success, I still think deep-frying food is best left to restaurants, to be enjoyed as an occasional treat. Put simply, baking them in the oven is my excuse to have them more often.
Served with a wedge of strong cheddar, a dollop of relish* or chutney, some crisp green leaves and a cold beer,** a Scotch egg could easily become my new favourite lunch. If all those food trends come to pass, at least we can say that 2012 will be a delicious year.
*I love Folláin’s Fire Roasted Pepper Relish, which is the perfect accompaniment to Scotch eggs.
**L. Mulligan Grocer recommends serving a hoppy IPA with Scotch eggs.
Oven Baked Scotch Eggs
Makes 6 eggs
Since there are only a few ingredients, quality matters – use free-range, organic eggs if you can and the best butcher sausages you can get your hands on (or at the very least, a sausage you like the taste of). In Ireland, I recommend TJ Crowe’s free-range pork sausages, which you can order online. If you use plain sausages that need a little boost, add in some fresh thyme and parsley or even a pinch of cayenne pepper for a little kick. And while I’d usually use fresh breadcrumbs, you really need to use the dried kind (I used Paxo) to get a satisfyingly crispy shell when baking the eggs instead of frying.
Check out the Bon Appétit blog here to see some step-by-step photos of how to make Scotch eggs.
7 large eggs (preferably free-range and organic)
75 g (3/4 cup) flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
100 g (1 cup) dried breadcrumbs
450 g (1 lb) best-quality butcher sausages
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Place 6 eggs in a large pot of cold, salted water. Bring the water to boil, then immediately reduce it to a simmer and cook the eggs for 8 minutes. Drain the pot and run the eggs under cold water from the tap, then peel them and set aside. (You can boil the eggs ahead of time and keep them in the fridge, unpeeled.)
Meanwhile, place the flour in a shallow bowl or plate and season with some salt and pepper. Break the remaining egg into a second bowl and beat lightly. Place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl or plate and line up all the bowls in a row (flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs).
Squeeze the sausage meat out of their casings into a bowl. Add the fresh thyme and parsley, if using, and mix them through the sausage with a fork, stirring well until they’re evenly combined.
Now you’re ready to assemble the eggs. Scoop out a large ball of sausage meat and flatten it into an oval shape in your hand. (The sausage mixture will probably be quite wet and sticky to work with, so try flouring your hands first or lightly dusting the dollop of the mixture that you’re going to work with before flattening it out.) Wrap the sausage meat around the egg, pinching it together at the seam, then smoothing the meat around the eggs, making sure there are no gaps where the egg is peeking through. Dredge the sausage-covered egg in the flour, tapping off any excess. At this stage, set aside the wrapped and floured egg on the lined baking sheet and repeat this process with the remaining eggs (doing it this way instead of fully assembling each egg will keep your hands cleaner and make it easier to work).
Once all the eggs have their sausage blanket and their dusting of flour, dip each one in the beaten egg, making sure it all gets coated, then roll it in the breadcrumbs, making sure it’s fully covered in crumbs. Place the finished egg on the lined baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining eggs.
Place the eggs in the oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crispy and the sausage is cooked through. Scotch eggs can be eaten warm, cold or at room temperature.