We are living through a golden age of scotch eggs but questions abound. Do they need to be served hot? Is it acceptable to deviate from the classic pork filling? Can you add salad? Is mustard needed? How to Eat has the answers
Greetings fastidious food nerds! How to Eat is back once again like a renegade master baker and, this month, the Guardian blog that attempts to identify the best way to eat Britains favourite foods is marvelling at the scotch egg.
Neither Scottish nor egg-shaped, nor necessarily native to the UK versions can be found from Hyderabad to Holland, home of the evocatively named gehaktbal kiekeboe or peekaboo meatball the scotch egg is, nonetheless, widely prized as a British classic. Indeed, thanks to its recent gastropub renaissance, this is a golden age for the spherical sausage-meat snack.
As ever, there is much to correct in this sphere. Not all such products eggs-el. BTL, we welcome meaty exchanges, but please ovoid causing unnecessary offence. Do not be pig-headed. Be sage. Use well-seasoned arguments. But do not pepper them with salty language.
The scotch egg
As with so many foods, we seem incapable of letting the scotch egg be. Novelty versions abound. It is regularly reinvented using ill-advised ingredients, and has even been repurposed as a pie and pastie filling. Sadly, people lap up this cheap sensationalism.
Some of the things you should not do with a scotch egg are so egregious, it should be obvious. Do not use two halves of one in lieu of a burger bun. Do not take its rep as a handheld full breakfast literally, and add beans and bacon. Do not try and crossbreed it with falafel. Do not try and lighten it by bulking it out with rice or lentils and then sacrilegious! baking it. If you are not prepared risk deep-fried arterial rupture each time you eat a scotch egg, then, frankly, enjoy your salad.
The scotch egg is also manipulated in subtler ways. You regularly come across eggs where the ingredients have been gussied-up in a supposedly gourmet fashion that is initially seductive. But are any of these new-wave scotch eggs truly next-level? No. For instance, the smoked haddock scotch egg is a nonsense a sad end for two individually fine foodstuffs. Similarly, you can add black pudding or chorizo to a scotch egg, use haggis, venison or chicken instead of pork, gild it with onion or apple, but while the resulting egg may rank somewhere on a sliding scale from abomination to interesting alternative, none of those eggs will constitute a marked improvement on the best examples of the original pork version. Not even the Manchester Egg.
Instead, the recent significant advances in this field have come about by concentrating on making every detail of the classic pork egg the best it can be. Soft-boiled runny yolks; the use of (Gloucester Old Spot) rare-breed pork; the manipulation of the fat content in the sausage meat (to ensure a glistening, juicy interior); the emergence of flaky, Japanese panko as the crumb du jour; these are the changes that have reminded the British of how glorious a scotch egg can be after years of enduring bright orange, furry supermarket eggs.
When and where
Paradoxically, a scotch egg seems a bit much at breakfast, but any time after midday it is the perfect interregnum snack enough to stave off hunger pangs, but in no way a filling meal. Or, at least, that is the ideal. Its function as a snack does mean that the scotch egg is often eaten in unsuitable locations. It is known as a picnic food, but, as all sensible folk acknowledge, picnics are appalling. The picnic takes something enjoyable (food) and places it in a situation (wind, rain, sunburn, wind, wasps, dog turds, damp grass, exhaust fumes) that is intolerable. The only people who enjoy picnics are masochists and children.
There are also a lot of scotch eggs eaten in cars, which is equally misguided. If you are eating a scotch egg in a car, it usually means you bought it in a petrol station or supermarket. Not only will it be a sorry specimen (a pallid, rubbery egg rattling around in a thin hollow of grey wet putty), but, in an enclosed environment, the breadcrumbs act as if in a howling sandstorm. They get into every crack and crevice. You end up wearing more scotch egg than you have eaten. You will be picking bits out of your footwell for weeks.
No, the best place to eat a scotch egg (and apologies to long-term readers for the predictability of this conclusion) is in the pub one that makes its own scotch eggs, fried-to-order, so that as you take a bite, the outer shell is still audibly crisp and hot juices run from the meat as you cut into it. A room-temperature scotch egg can be enjoyable, but a warm egg will express itself in an altogether more elevated way. Its like watching Barcelona play football.
The excesses of pub-food presentation (chips in whimsical miniature frying baskets, cheese boards on roof tiles), have, rightly, come under scrutiny recently. But there are certain situations where a solid, spacious wooden board comes into its own as a serving utensil. This is one of them. Not only does a scotch egg look right perched on a wooden board all complementary shades of brown and spurious rustic simplicity but there is also something deeply satisfying about cutting through a scotch egg (serrated steak-knife, please) into the gently yielding surface of a wooden board. It speaks to some deep, primitive, pre-industrial urge in us. Unless, that is, you simply bite into your scotch egg like an apple. In which case, How to Eat makes no comment (because you are clearly a psychopath). Even children raised by particularly uncouth wolves know that you should halve or quarter that egg and savour the moment. Do not bolt it down.
On the side
The idea of serving a scotch egg without any sort of garnish, allowing it to stand or fall on its own merits, petrifies chefs. It is partly an aesthetic thing they are trained to prettify the plate and partly a crisis of faith in their own ability. A truly great scotch egg is a multi-layered, self-contained sensory experience. It requires no further elaboration. Evidently, too few chefs feel that is what they have created.
There are a small group of simple items you can serve with a scotch egg that bring another acceptable accent to the dish (a tangle of peppery, palate-cleansing watercress; a dab of sharp, punctuating mustard; a spicy, not-too-sweet chutney), but none of these are essential. Everything beyond that begins to detract from the eggs-perience.
The frequency with which rich and creamy or assertively flavoured sauces (Hollandaise, curried mayo, aioli, chilli jam, ranch dressing, etc) are paired with something as greasy as a scotch egg is frankly bizarre. Fat-on-fat in that kind of cloying concentration is never as fun as it sounds (see also, remoulade). It is too much of a good thing.
Attempts to turn the scotch egg into a complete meal (plonking it on a hillock of risotto or a mound of blitzed peas, or serving it with chips) are, likewise, usually inelegant and stodgy. There is a greater logic to serving it with a salad, usually as a starter, but that it is hampered by Britains inability to master the salad garnish. It seems to take two forms: a handful of bedraggled, undressed leaves haplessly topped with red onion and tomato, or an OTT extravaganza with croutons and lardons, black pudding or goats cheese, the plate smeared with tell-tale skidmarks of balsamic (a signature of the insecure chef), which, rather than showcasing the scotch egg, entirely overwhelms it.
You are in the pub eating a scotch egg. It can only be beer.
So, scotch eggs how do you eat yours?