I first tasted Scotch eggs, I'm a bit ashamed to admit, at a Renaissance fair(e) when I was a teenager in the early 1990s. I recall that the eggs were better than the turkey leg(ges), but when your strongest memory of the time is of wearing robes and arguing with a community theater actor portraying Sir Francis Walsingham about why there is so much medievalism at a purported "Renaissance" fair(e), it's perhaps best to discount any recollection of culinary opinion.
Since that dim and distant time, I've eaten Scotch eggs in the UK and the US, freshly- (and not-so-freshly) made. Like many a simple dish, this one is frequently ruined by poor ingredients and careless preparation: rubbery eggs with greenish-grey haloes 'round chalky yolks — grainy, overcooked sausage meat — boxed breadcrumbs — a poverty of spices… all rolled together and dropped like a stone into the murky, rancid depths of a deep fat fryer. I suppose that the reason people are so forgiving of these gastronomic atrocities is because they're often quite intoxicated when they order and eat bad Scotch eggs— the "beer goggles" phenomenon seems to occur when drunkenly choosing food as often as it does when drunkenly choosing sex partners. What appears a succulent, flavorful and appetizing morsel in the dim light of the bar does not always seem so fresh in the harsh light of the morning.
Of course, Scotch eggs can be a delicious dish— whether they're served with drinks, or at a picnic, or for breakfast or lunch— what's important is to use the best ingredients you can find and to prepare the dish carefully. Here's my recipe:
- 10 extra-large eggs
- 1 pound loose sausage meat
- 2.5 cups fresh breadcrumbs (see procedure below)
- 6 anchovy fillets, minced
- 1 tbsp Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
- salt to taste (about 2 tsp)
- about 1/2 cup clarified butter and/or meat drippings, or peanut oil
- A saucepan with a tight-fitting lid
- A large bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes
- A large mixing bowl
- A sauté or frying pan with steep sides.
Beat two of the eggs in a bowl and set aside.
To perfectly cook the remaining 8 eggs: Take each egg and, using a pushpin, thumbtack or straight pin, pierce a small hole in the larger end of the egg; this prevents the eggs from cracking when they're cooked. Gently place the eggs into the saucepan and cover them (by about an inch) with cool water. Set the pan on the stove and bring the water to a boil, then immediately cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Let the eggs sit in the covered pan for exactly 10 minutes, then drain out the hot water. Swish or bounce the eggs around in the empty pan until they're all cracked, then drop them into the bowl of ice water. Allow the eggs to stand in the ice water until they're thoroughly chilled (about 10-15 minutes) then carefully peel the eggs under running tap water. Peeling eggs is hit-or-miss; very fresh eggs don't peel as well as do slightly older eggs... but if they're too old, they'll be misshapen due to the expanding of the air space in the shell. Don't despair if the whites of some of the eggs get a bit shredded, this recipe doesn't require perfectly-peeled cooked eggs with flawless surfaces.
You must use fresh breadcrumbs in this recipe. If you've never made them before, here's the procedure: cut a loaf of good, close-grained white bread (such as my pain de mie) into medium-thick slices and put them onto a tray or baking sheet into in a 250º F oven for about 20 minutes, until they're dry-ish but not browned. Break up the slices a bit, then whizz them in a food processor or blender until they're medium-finely ground, with no greatly outsized chunks of bread left.
Put the sausage meat into the large mixing bowl, then add 2 cups of the breadcrumbs, about three-quarters of the beaten eggs, the minced anchovy fillets, the Worcestershire sauce, the ground spices and the salt & pepper. Mix everything up very thoroughly with your impeccably-clean hands.
Take a peeled, cooked egg and dip it into the remaining bit of beaten egg, then form some of the meat mixture (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of meat per egg) around it, so that the cooked egg is completely covered with a tight layer of meat of an even thickness. This takes a bit of practice but you'll get the hang of it. Repeat the process until all of your cooked eggs are encased in the meat mixture. Set each onto a plate as you finish preparing them.
Heat the clarified butter/drippings/oil in the sauté pan over medium high heat. Roll each meat-encased egg in the remaining 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs and then put it into the sauté pan. Don't crowd the pan— depending upon the size of your pan, you may need to do this in two batches. Gently fry the Scotch eggs on all sides, until each is a uniform brown color; this will take about 8-10 minutes per batch. Sprinkle the cooked eggs with a little kosher salt.
Serve the eggs warm or cold, on a plate or wrapped in a napkin, accompanied perhaps by good mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, or even a good meat gravy. And, of course, a nice strong drink.