Despite a growing healthy-eating culture, the full English is still a mainstay of the breakfast menu. Diane Lane reports
Visitors to any breakfast buffet these days are likely to be faced with an array of foods from which to select their first meal of the day. Whether their personal preference is for cereal, toast, fruit, yogurt, porridge, muffins, crumpets or kippers, it's often all there in abundance.
But no breakfast offering is complete without what one US website on British culture hails as "the UK's iconic way to start the day". Despite the healthy-eating culture spawning all manner of low-fat, guilt-free options such as muesli and granola, the full English is a mainstay of the breakfast menu.
While bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms are standard cooked breakfast fare, there are additional items popular in different regions of the UK.
The traditional Welsh breakfast includes laverbread made using seaweed, while tattie (potato) scones, white pudding and haggis are popular additions in Scotland. Over in Northern Ireland, the "Ulster fry" incorporates potato and soda breads.
According to data sourced on behalf of BPEX, the breakfast occasion accounts for more than 40% of sausage and bacon servings and it says that, with such high demand, the emphasis on quality cannot be understated.
BPEX food service trade manager Tony Goodger says: "Establishments offering breakfast really need to stand out for all the right reasons. This means sourcing good-quality, thick-sliced rashers of bacon to deliver real bite and flavour to complement the other meal components - sweet-cured and smoked bacon are ideal. For sausages, traditional pork and breakfast-style chipolatas are readily available from catering butchers and suppliers. With a high meat percentage and just a hint of seasoning so as to not overpower the palate, these are the perfect choice for morning consumption."
Goodger also emphasises that this is where the standards attached to Quality Assured pork and pig meat products - including Red Tractor - are of real importance, as they provide a guarantee of quality, traceability and animal welfare and husbandry.
Bacon and sausages are among the top five breakfast choices at independent contract caterer Talkington Bates's sites nationwide and the company is increasingly focusing on locally sourced ingredients for breakfast in addition to other meals.
The company has taken the locally sourced message one step further at one site which houses a working farm with pigs, cows, lambs, chickens and turkeys, and also produces about 120 eggs every day.
Paul Bates, group managing director, says, "The eggs are collected from the farm daily and are used in a variety of ways including for breakfast when poached, scrambled and fried eggs are made to order. Cooking eggs to order in front of customers is proving popular in the mornings - it adds theatre and helps to promote breakfast."
Another example of its locally sourced approach was evident during last year's British Food Fortnight. The company celebrated the occasion by creating a signature sausage - produced using 100% British ingredients - which was so popular that it remains a staple on the menu at its sites.
Sausages played a key part in an initiative to improve the breakfast menu across Macdonald Hotels and earlier this year the group won Best Breakfast for the second time in three years at the Menu Innovation and Development Awards.
With more than 40 hotels throughout the UK, breakfast is a big part of the group's food offering. "From a footfall perspective, it's the biggest food and beverage offering," says Macdonald's catering director, Alan Swinson. "It helps the sleepers-to-diners conversion as it gives guests confidence in using the hotels' other dining experiences."
He adds: "We looked at every element of the breakfast and analysed it to see how to make it better. Lots of people hang their hat on the local thing, whereas we try to identify the best quality product available in the UK; it's how we're able to put a good price on it."
The group works with a small selection of UK-based suppliers including Anna's Happy Trotters in Yorkshire, which supplies the free-range pork used to make the breakfast sausages. The recipe specified for Macdonald Hotels contains 70% meat from the belly and shoulder from breeds such as Duroc and Maximus and is hand-linked with natural skins.
The bacon on the breakfast plate is lean, smoke-cured back bacon, for which there is constant tendering for supply. Eggs are free range from Stonegate in Wiltshire and the plum tomatoes are of the Roma variety, while long-established Scottish butchers MacLeod and MacLeod supply the Stornoway black pudding.
Swinson also believes in promoting the provenance of produce. "We try to communicate information about suppliers on the menu where we can without overloading it," he says. "Customers want to know where their food comes from and that it has had a decent life, and is not imported from the EU, so if your key protein in a dish is an outdoor-reared pork you should shout about it."
A breakfast market table with a live cooking station manned by a chef serves the purpose of shouting about provenance in the Cookbook Café at the InterContinental London Park Lane. Something of a destination restaurant for breakfast, the café champions British seasonal and sustainable ingredients and has just won two stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Having first introduced a 50-mile-radius sourcing concept on the lunch menu, executive chef Paul Bates has now extended it to the breakfast offering. "It's a challenge for a West End hotel," he says, "but we have lovely products in this country and we should use them.
"The beauty of having a chef out front is that he can promote the produce and explain that it's from just down the road. International guests often find it interesting and British guests like to know where their food is from. People are in to it - they care about provenance."
The cooked breakfast is very popular, in fact out of 280 breakfasts served just the other day more than 200 were of the full English variety, with guests no doubt tempted by the menu's promise of "a good ol' fry-up" consisting of "English bacon, eggs and all the trimmings, fresh from the farm".
An additional option is a Casterbridge minute steak sourced by Fairfax Meadow from selected farms in south-west England. The cattle are finished on a natural grain diet and Bates enthuses about the meat's good marbling and beautiful colour of the fat.
The breakfast offering is the latest to benefit from a mission to drive forward the food at Fuller, Smith & Turner's quality division and hotels. Throughout the Fuller's estate, 80% of overnight guests choose the full English breakfast and it is, therefore, a key part of the offering.
"Breakfast is one of our most important meals as it is the customer's last food experience before they depart," says head of food Paul Dickinson. "We ensure that all our hotels and pubs with rooms have a great local offering of ingredients and in Hampshire we are starting to roll out the new breakfast spec based on local produce."
In an inspired move, the essence of the brewery has also been incorporated into the ingredients on the plate. "Beer is the bloodline of the company," explains Dickinson. Conse-quently, Fuller's has specified a sausage from Owtons of West End, Southampton, where the pork used is soaked in its HSB (Horndean Special Bitter) prior to the manufacturing process. Additionally, a by-product of the brewing process, the spent grain, is sent to farms to feed the pigs from which bacon is sourced.
Essentially, the whole idea revolves around the food on the plate telling a story to customers. Says Dickinson: "The message to customers is that we're serious about our ingredients."
Breakfast - The right time for tea?
Twinings asserts that tea is the classic pairing for traditional English breakfasts and that in the past 12 months the special teas market has grown in volume by 4.2%, while commodity teas continue to decline. Twinings's sales are reflective of this trend, with English Breakfast the company's biggest selling blend. The company recommends that operators stock English Breakfast to support their breakfast menu based on the fact that 36% of English Breakfast tea is consumed between 7am and 9am.
Nestlé Professional reports that while a mug of tea may have been the most obvious partner to a full English at one time, consumer tastes have changed enormously over recent years. It now puts speciality coffee very much at the heart of the British breakfast, with figures showing that out-of-home sales of lattes alongside cooked breakfasts rose by 7.7 million in the past year.
facts and figures
Research by Aviko indicates that hash browns are now the third-biggest breakfast item in the hotel, restaurant and pub sectors, being eaten on 7.3% occasions and are, therefore, a burgeoning part of the traditional breakfast. Only eggs (12.5%) and baked beans (8.5%) hold more share in the morning meal stakes.
While a cooked breakfast is an essential part of any morning menu, it's never going to be the healthiest option. Quorn Foods calculates that substituting regular bangers for Quorn sausages (pictured) can save a huge 240 calories and allow operators to offer a lighter option of one of the most-loved British breakfasts.
Lantmännen Unibake UK cites research showing that 15% of consumers presently eat breakfast out of home each week and expects this to increase over the summer as more people look for breakfast or brunch out of home while travelling to or enjoying sporting and summer events. For a British-themed breakfast offering suiting consumers that want to eat on the go, the company suggests floured baps filled with traditional English breakfast fare such as bacon and egg.
tips for serving a cooked breakfast
â- Pick premium breakfast-style sausages. These contain pork with light seasoning, rather than the stronger flavours used in evening meals. They're often thinner, too, which allows for similar cooking times to a thick rasher of bacon, helping chefs serve a freshly cooked meal to order in less than 10 minutes.
â- Hand-held bacon, sausage and egg rolls or toasties are great as carry-out options. They offer good margin potential and are easy to cook and serve, as well as being easy for the consumer to eat.
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