One of the perils of being a recipe writer is that people regularly ask me why I bother making things from scratch, because ‘You can buy that in the supermarket’. Now, let’s put aside the obvious question – do they think I’m not aware of supermarkets? – and engage with the issue. I love supermarket food. There are many products which are simply better shop-bought: baked beans, mango chutney, Jaffa Cakes. Countless chefs and home cooks have tried to improve on Heinz tomato ketchup; all have failed. There are also supermarket foods which, while not necessarily better-tasting, are simply radically more convenient. Oven chips, say, or filo pastry.
But consider the Victoria sponge. A shepherd’s pie. The humble crumble. I happen to enjoy cooking and baking, but even if you don’t, these things are worth making from scratch because the gulf between shop-bought and homemade is so large. And in no case is it larger than in that of the scotch egg.
The scotch egg is a simple formula: a boiled egg, coated in sausage meat, then breadcrumbs, then baked or fried. What could possibly go wrong?
It started so well. Fortnum & Mason invented the scotch egg in 1738. It was designed specifically to be both a luxury product and portable – for wealthy travellers to take on carriage rides. They quickly became popular and a staple of picnics. But their popularity may have been their undoing, because it was when these eggs began to be mass-produced for the modern traveller (who frequents service stations more than carriages) that it all went a little downhill.
Try a supermarket scotch egg – or worse, a petrol station forecourt one – and you’ll quickly see what I mean. It’s a sad specimen indeed: a faintly sulphurous, disconcertingly bouncy orb of lurid orange snacking regret, with a use-by date long enough to make any thinking person nervous. I used to be a barrister, which mainly involves catching endless trains to places like St Albans and Cheshunt, wishing that you’d remembered to bring lunch. For whatever reason, there are never good lunch options near magistrates’ courts. Hope (and greed) would almost always trump experience, and as a result I’ve eaten more bad scotch eggs than almost anyone on Earth.
Fifteen or so years ago, a quiet scotch egg renaissance began. Pubs started serving them – fresh, soft-yolked – albeit at six or seven quid a pop. Now every gastropub worth its panko has a version. This month will see the much-anticipated return of the Scotch Egg Challenge, hosted by the Guinea Grill in Mayfair, after a pandemic hiatus. The challenge attracts some of the country’s best chefs, who all compete to make the ultimate scotch egg. There have been haggis eggs, smoked venison eggs, even one with an onion bhaji crust. The two most recent winners – both created by the Shoreditch Thai restaurant Smoking Goat – featured spiced pork, fermented crab, chilli and lime leaves in one case, and pork and offal laab in the other.
My scotch egg recipe is a little more conservative – the ultimate version of the original, rather than a twist. It’s large and proud, the size of a cricket ball. The yolk is just jammy enough not to spill all over your clothes. The sausage meat is generously seasoned with dried sage, white pepper and a good spoonful of hot English mustard. The breadcrumbs are panko and, happily, not the colour of Zippy from Rainbow. They must be deep-fried, I’m afraid, otherwise you miss out on the all-important crunch.
They’re best warm from the fryer, of course, but scotch eggs are designed to be robust. Take one on a picnic, or to a magistrates’ court. You’ll be glad you planned ahead.
Makes 4 Cooks 10 mins Takes 30 minutes plus chilling time
- 6 eggs
- 6 pork sausages
- 1 heaped tsp English mustard
- ¼ tsp dried sage
- 75g plain flour
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 100g panko breadcrumbs
- 2 litres vegetable oil
- Coarse salt
- Bring a pan of water to the boil, and add 4 of the eggs to the pan; have a bowl of ice water ready nearby. Boil for 7 minutes exactly, then immediately transfer into the iced water. Leave to cool completely, then carefully peel the eggs.
- Split the sausage skins and decant the sausage meat into a bowl. Add the pepper, dried sage and mustard, and squidge with your hands until the seasonings are evenly distributed.
- Divide the sausage meat into four equal portions. Taking one portion, place it on a sheet of clingfilm. Fold the clingfilm over the top of the meat, and flatten into a sheet. Peel off the top layer of clingfilm, and roll the sheet of sausage meat around one of the boiled eggs, pinching the meat closed at points where it meets. Gently roll the sausage-covered egg between your two cupped hands, to create an even ball. Repeat with the other three boiled eggs.
- Set out three dishes. Fill one with the flour, one with two beaten eggs and one with panko. Dip one of the sausage-covered eggs into the flour, then the beaten egg, then the panko, ensuring it is completely coated each time. Dip once more into the egg and the panko. Set on a lined baking tray, repeat for the other eggs, then refrigerate for an hour.
- Heat a deep-fat fryer – or a large, deep pan of vegetable oil – to 180°C, or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil rises to the top and turns golden. Do not fill the pan more than halfway.
- Gently lower the scotch eggs into the oil and cook for 8 minutes, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon. Lift the eggs from the oil with the spoon and set on to kitchen paper to drain. Sprinkle with coarse salt, and enjoy.
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