FOOD HISTORY: An Ode to the Humble Scotch Egg
This week in honor of Robbie Burns day I felt a Scottish meal was in order. Lacking haggis but rich in eggs and sausage I decided to whip up a round of scotch eggs.
Firstly, I wasn’t really sure who Robbie Burns was, I had to google him. Secondly and most importantly, the scotch egg may not be Scottish after all.
What is a Scotch Egg?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary it is “A hard-boiled egg enclosed in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.”
In years gone by the meat would not have been as high quality as it is today. Just replace the word sausage with the appetizing forcemeat , which is basically minced offal. This “meat” mixture would have been wrapped around a small egg such as that of a quail or young hen. Breading and frying was a good way to make the forcemeat palatable.
If I’m being honest I could probably eat a deep fried paper plate and be OK with it, as long as the batter was crispy and the dipping sauces tasty.
The upscale London department store, Fortnum & Mason claims to have created the savory snack in the mid 18th century, catering to the well-to-do travelers passing through Piccadilly Square, touting it as a handy portable snack. However this claim has been disputed, as some gather the dish to have begun as a poor man’s lunch, believing the scotch egg to be a relative to the Cornish pasty and consumed by Scottish farmers.
Another intriguing theory is that of the nargisi kofta, which consists of a hard-boiled egg encased in minced meat, fried and served in a gravy. Thanks to the establishment of the East India Company in the early 17th century, flavors and dishes were making their way from India to England and it is theorized that the nargisi kofta hitched a ride.
Unsurprisingly many cultures have their own version of the classic UK snack. A Guardian article; Scotch eggs around the world — it has never been just a British thing describes a number of countries who have dishes similar to the scotch egg. The Polish Jaskółcze gniazda (swallow’s nest), the Dutch-Flemish vogelnestje (bird’s nest), as well as the Indonesian bakso telur (meatball eggs) are few examples.
No matter the true tale, I think we can all agree that the humble scotch egg is a little more worldly and a little less stodgy than originally thought.
Modern Day Scotch Eggs:
Today, there are many iterations of the scotch egg. From vegan and vegetarian to a scotch egg served in a cone of maple bacon, if you can think of it, I’m sure it’s been fried .
However, few stand out as much as the unfortunately named Chotch Egg. The Fortnum & Mason creation was said to be expertly crafted by Executive Chef, Sydney Aldridge and described as follows:
This gastronomic delight features a free-range egg with a vibrant orange yolk, wrapped in the finest British outdoor-reared Venison and 55% Valrhona dark chocolate, infused with Juniper berries. It is finished with a crisp layer of homemade breadcrumbs.
Creative, to say the least.
In the end, the scotch egg may not be Scottish, but that doesn’t matter. This modest food has proven itself to be a versatile and protein rich snack, consumed by many around the world for centuries.
Try making them at home. If you are not partial to deep-frying, baking them with or without bread crumbs is a great alternative.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering.
The largest scotch egg weighed 6.2 kg (13 lb 10 oz) and was made by Clarence Court and Lee Streeton (both UK) at the Albemarle of Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel, London, UK, on 30 July 2008. A 1.7 kg ostrich egg, 4 kg of sausage meat, 940 g of haggis and 800 g of breadcrumbs were used. The entire cooking took more than eight hours.
Guinness World Records
Put that in your pocket.