Sunday, August 10, 2014
The Humble Scotch Egg
I have a cookbook in my kitchen that often gets a giggle – Traditional British Cooking. I have been asked if it featured blank pages. So unfair! Our stereotypes of culinary greatness and grandeur tend to be French – thanks Escoffier and Julia Child. Soul nourishing comfort foods? Italian maybe. Exotic flavors? Asian of all kinds. Filling, rich foods? German and Eastern European. But the British Isles get left out unless we are talking beer and spirits. In retort I bring up pub grub and people just smirk as if that doesn’t count. But fish and chips, a shepherd’s pie, some bubble and squeak – these may not be the result of some hours’ long processes with reductions and so on, but they are delicious. Furthermore, we seem to be in an era in America of appreciation for simplicity, minimal ingredients, and fresh, versatile flavors. So let’s give British food a break – and a try.
In Chicago recently I had the pleasure of eating at Blokes and Birds in Wrigleyville. I spotted Scotch eggs on the menu – an item I never see without trying. I am physically incapable of passing them up. So along with an excellent burger and some fish and chips, we added this traditional portable snack. And it was delicious. In fact, before going on, I have to encourage you all to visit Blokes and Birds. Great food, great location and stellar service.
That said, I got to thinking about the Scotch egg. It is so simple it is a work of genius. But why do we reserve these treats to pub visits? It is simply a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs and fried. That would be easy to do at home, right?
And it has a wonderful, if disputed, history. It could be the creation of an elite grocery store in London, or maybe a natural adaptation of an Indian meatball. It might even have North African origins. It is definitely not from Scotland. But it becomes popular because it is filling and easily portable, delicious hot or cold. This is a simple snack for the masses. I had to do this at home!
I did what I often do – glance at a half dozen recipes and then just create my own. I rarely use recipes – prefer to just create based on what I have seen. So I hard boiled some eggs – cold from the fridge into rolling, boiling water reduced to a simmer for 12 minutes and then hit with cold water. This way the yolk is done but golden and creamy, not dry. After the eggs cooled and I peeled them I made a patty of mild Italian sausage in my hand, placed an egg in the middle and carefully wrapped the patty around the egg. I thought this might be challenging but it was easy! Then I rolled the sausage/egg ball in a whisked egg then rolled it around in a bowl of about a cup of flour, cup of bread crumbs and half a cup of panko with some salt and pepper. I then dropped the balls into about an inch worth of vegetable oil, very hot, in a Dutch oven on the stove. After a careful turn they fried up to a beautiful golden brown and looked to be restaurant quality.
The kids wandered in and out of the kitchen, knowing what I was making but skeptical – eggs inside sausage – weird! Once all five balls were done I sliced them in half and put them on the table. The kids looked a little more curious now. My stepson took a bite. “Yum. Cool!” My stepdaughter took it apart a bit to accommodate a sore mouth due to some orthodontic work, but responded with a “wow…that’s good.” Some family dropped by conveniently and they too loved them. This was sooooo easy!
And there’s even more that can be done. What if we pickled the eggs in Worcestershire or Jalapeno juice? What if we used a beer batter? Or chorizo or a hot Italian sausage? The possibilities are endless**. Each family member could develop their own signature egg. These could even be done with different kind of eggs – mini ones with quail eggs or giant goose eggs.
So give the Brits a break and try these at home.
**Additional note - Just last night we had dinner at a new Santa Cruz restaurant, Assembly. As a snack they served Scotch olives! They were delicious! Get to Assembly ASAP. Review to come soon.