I’d laid slightly rose-tinted plans to go to Testaccio market extremely early on Saturday morning with a wicker shopping basket tucked under one arm – I don’t actually own a wicker shopping basket but you get the idea. I’d go to the bar for breakfast and then I’d join the earnest calm of the market as it stirred to life. I’d bussle with discerning Roman housewives and trattoria owners sniffing lemons, tasting bitter leaves, demanding the nicest rib of beef, the pinkest veal ossobuco and the brightest eyed fish. I would thoughtfully gather the items on my carefully written list. It would be charming! The best laid plans, serves me right.
At about 1 50 on Friday, just as I was about to start teaching until tediously late, my neighbour reminded me that Saturday was a national holiday ‘la festa di lavoratori’ and that everything, including our faithful market would be closed. I had no option but to tear desperately around the seriously depleted market as it was closing. I got extremely hot and bothered, cursed, grabbed, shoved old ladies out of my way trying to gather our contributions for a picnic, ingredients for Saturday’s supper for 6, a Sunday roast with all the trimmings for 7 and a motley crew of household basics organised people never run out of. Not a pleasant way to shop.
All things considered I didn’t do that badly. Actually, as far as the meat was concerned I did pretty well! Fortunately for me, someone had neglected to collect the beef they’d ordered, Sunday Lunch was saved! I was also just in time to procure the last four sausages. I wanted eight, but four was better than nothing, because as far as I’m concerned, a picnic isn’t a picnic without proper Scotch eggs.
Supermarkets and the villanous manufacturers of nasty food have tried to blacken the good name and reputation of Scotch eggs with their shameful offerings. They’d have you believe that Scotch eggs are slightly sweaty, oversized orange balls that come in individual plastic bags and consist of suspicious, rubbery grey meat loosely enveloping a slightly shriveled green tinged hard-boiled egg – we know better.
A well made Scotch egg is a delicious thing; a peeled hard-boiled egg, wrapped in very good sausage meat, dipped in beaten egg, rolled in fine breadcrumbs and then deep-fried until dark golden brown.
Made properly with good ingredients, a Scotch egg is a perfectly formed savory delight; a crisp, dark crust, the succulent seasoned sausage meat and then the egg, the surprise, in the middle. My friend calls Scotch eggs a ball of breakfast. What’s more, they are neat, compact and will travel beautifully to your favourite picnic spot or table.
I made Scotch eggs a couple of times last week, dusting off my Scotch egg skills to speak, in time for picnic season. They are nice and simple to make, but you do need to be diligent about wrapping the sausage meat around the eggs. This task is made easier by using cling film, which I explain below and is pictured here, a cunning trick picked up from one of my new favourite London based blogs Food stories. When you have pulled away the clingfilm, double-check there are no holes and that the seams are really closed, if not, you might find the sausage coat bursts open in the pan – a scotch egg flasher. You may also need to be flexible and experiment with the cooking times to make sure the meat is cooked through but the crust is not too dark. Fortunately Scotch eggs are delicious enough to warrant experimentation.
I have to say that even though I adore Scotch eggs for picnics, there is nothing like a freshly fried one, just wait about 10 minutes, it will still be crisp, and then eat it with your hands and maybe a blob of chutney. Once cooked they will keep brilliantly for up to 8 hours – even though they will lose their crisp crunch – time for you to get to the picnic. They also keep until the next day, some say for two days, but they fade in my opinion.
- 4 medium-sized eggs – very fresh and very organic/free range obviously
- 350g good sausage meat (about 4 fat sausages squeezed out of casing)
- 75g plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
- another egg – beaten
- vegetable oil for deep frying
Put the eggs in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for exactly nine minutes. Drain and cool the eggs under cold running water and then peel them.
Tear off 4 squares of cling film and lay them out on the work surface. Divide the sausage meat into quarters and put each quarter on one of the four squares. Now flatten each ball of sausage meat into an ovals about 12.5cm/5in long and 7.5cm/3in at its widest point.
Place the seasoned flour onto a plate, then dredge each boiled egg in the flour.
One by one, place the peeled, floured eggs on the sausage meat oval, then bringing the clingfilm up round the sides squash, mould and wrap the sausage meat around each egg. Once the eggs is covered ease pull away the cling film and continue to mould the sausage meat until it is compact and completely covers each egg – make sure the seams are well sealed.
Dip and roll each sausage meat-coated egg in the beaten egg, then dip and roll into the breadcrumbs..
Heat the oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pan – it should be at least 4 ” deep as you are going to deep fry – until a bread crumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it.
Using a slotted spoon gently lower each scotch egg into the hot oil and deep-fry for about 8 – 11 minutes until deep golden and crisp and the sausage meat is completely cooked. Carefully remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Wait at least 10 minutes (and up to 8 hours) before eating. Pack in a greaseproof paper lined box to take on your picnic or if you are staying at home have one with a dab of strong mustard, optional green leaves, bread and a beer.
It seems that Scotch eggs are not Scottish at all, but English, created by the high-class London food shop Fortnum & Mason in 1738 as a portable snack for coach travellers heading west from London along Piccadilly.