Breakfast. The Full English. The Full Monty. A fry-up. Call it what you want, but there are few nations in this world that do breakfast better than the British. Digging into a piping hot fry up is a is an experience that can set you right no matter what situation you may have gotten yourself into. What is included in your fry-up is a matter of taste, as well as region. The following is a breakdown of the fry-up, and the components that are (in my mind, at least) essential—as well as a group of things that are a welcome addition to the party.
The Bare Essentials
The Meat: Sausage and Bacon
The combination of both bacon and sausage is one of the essential elements to a full fry up. A simple pork sausage (like the banger) is ideal and the type of bacon is up to preference. Streaky bacon (or what you Americans just call bacon) is a common sight in a fry up, but back bacon, made from the cured loin of a pig (and often labeled "Irish Bacon" in the States) makes a lovely meaty counterpart to the fatty sausage it sits alongside.
The inclusion of beans may seem cursory, but they are the element of the plate that anchors the meal. Don't be ashamed to reach for a can of beans—Heinz is the classic. But if you have time on your side, trying out a homemade version of baked beans can make the humble legume shine. They won't have the same sweet, tomato-y vinegary flavor of Heinz, but they'll do you well.
Much like the beans, the tomato may seem like an optional garnish; I assure you, it is not. The sweetness and acidity that come from a cooked tomato goes a long way in cutting the fattiness that is inherent in the rest of the plate. The way you prepare your tomato is once again a matter of taste—a stewed tomato will work, but simply cutting a tomato in half and frying it in leftover bacon fat, then finishing it with a bit of cracked black pepper, is a quick and delicious way to go. Many proper fry ups will come with grilled tomato (that's broiled, for you American English speakers).
Forget The Toast, Bring On The Fried Bread
Fried bread is just what it sounds like—sliced bread toasted in a pan with butter, lard, or bacon drippings. It is important to not underestimate the amount of fat you will need to get a perfectly crisp piece of fried bread—a couple tablespoons per slice is not unheard of. It's a bit surprising, but absolutely worth it. You only need a slice or two to satisfy the craving; after that, you may find yourself reaching for a plain piece of toast.
Lastly, the egg. Normally two, but sometimes three eggs cooked to your preference. The runny yolk to my mind is essential—it's the sauce that brings the whole plate together!—although those die-hard scrambled fans will without a doubt disagree with me.
Some things that should also be included in the essential section of a fry up guide is a hot strong cup of tea and a bottle of vinegary, brown HP sauce, tomato sauce (aka ketchup), or both. If you have a jar of marmite and some nice marmalade, you may want to put that on the table as well. And you will always need a few pieces of extra toast.
Optional But Worth It
When it comes to things that may go into a fry up, the list is long and varied. These few ingredients make it to the top of most lists, and may in fact belong in the essential category, in many eyes.
Black and White Pudding
Black pudding, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces and lightly fried. Made with oatmeal, pork fat, and blood, the dark sausage has a strong, minerally flavor, but you only need a few bits of the soft yet crisp disks on your plate to understand why so many of us are big fans. On the other side, white pudding is fatty pork sausage that includes oatmeal, like black pudding—just no blood. Treated the same way, sliced and fried, it has a soft texture like black pudding that leads some people to lovingly refer to it as mealy pudding.
A few quickly fried kidneys make a great addition to any fry up. Lamb kidneys are the right size for a morning meal, and have a more delicate flavor than beef kidney. Kidneys are simple to prepare: simply remove the interior sinew, toss with seasoned flour, and fry in butter. If you're feeling adventurous, deglaze the pan with a few big shakes of Worcestershire sauce and some stock for a quick pan sauce.
These small, cold smoked herring can be difficult to find in North America, but making the effort to seek them out can add something a bit different to your fry up. Gently poach the kippers in milk and remove the bones, then flake them into scrambled eggs. Or simply fry your kippers and use them as the bed for your fried or poached eggs.
Mushrooms often come along with a fry up, either roasted in the oven or fried in some butter. Generally you're looking for a white button mushroom cooked whole and seasoned gently to let all of its mushroom flavor come through. Serving mushrooms in a fry up is a nice inclusion because it offers a moment of pause from the sausage and bacon every few bites, but holds true to many of their meaty qualities.
Lastly, the potatoes. Hash, chips, or mashed and fried into a cake—many fry ups include the spud. If you are in the glorious situation of having leftovers from a roast, a few roasted potatoes cut up and fried are wonderful. Or a quick version of bubble and squeak would also be a welcome addition to a fry up.
Whatever you choose to include in your fry up, enjoy the process from beginning to end. Take the time prepare your meal with care and precision, making sure that all the yolks hit the table intact and quivering.
Of course, a proper fry up is largely a matter of personal opinion. What do you like to put in yours?