With our busy lifestyles, how many of us really have a proper breakfast before we set off for work these days? It doesn't have to be time-consuming – if you're really into your breakfasts you can do the preparation the night before so that it's quicker to knock up and chase down the following day. Alternatively, you may quite like at the weekends to make a bit of a thing of breakfast and just spend a leisurely session reading the papers and tucking into some tasty little nibbles for an hour or so.
The tradition of the British breakfast differs across the British Isles and it doesn't necessarily have to involve a big old greasy fry-up. When I get round to cooking up a proper breakfast, which often seems to turn into a brunch, I like to make the most of regional and seasonal ingredients wherever possible.
Now, don't get the wrong impression – I'm not some kind of mad early-morning cook who hunts out regional specialities in the middle of the night for breakfast. When I'm travelling around, I like to check out local foods such as black pudding, the quality of which varies massively across the country, from desperate discs tasting like sawdust to delicate soft and spiced delicious stuff. I recently bought some hog's pudding after I had it for breakfast at the St Moritz Hotel in Trebetherick in Cornwall. It's sometimes referred to as the Devonshire haggis, although it doesn't taste much like the Highland dish, more like a white pudding.
Mushrooms are also one of my favourites; a couple of handfuls of freshly gathered fried mushrooms are brilliant simply scattered over a fried hen or duck egg.
Eggs are probably the most versatile of all breakfast ingredients. I always have a little selection of Clarence Court eggs (available at branches of Waitrose) in my fridge; Burford browns, Cotswold Legbars and Mabel Pearman's duck eggs are individual treats on their own, simply fried, poached, scrambled or just cracked into a buttered dish and baked.
Farmhouse Breakfast Week ( www.farmhouse breakfast.com) takes place from 20–26 January, so get shopping and cooking.
Arbroath smokies on toast with poached Cotswold Legbar
Arbroath smokies are certainly not as popular as they once were and some people probably don't even know what they are. Traditionally, they are hot kiln-smoked small whole haddock. I reckon that along with kippers they have probably just drifted out of vogue because people don't want their kitchens to smell of fish, and they certainly don't want to contend with bones over breakfast. Well, this is a tasty, boneless breakfast dish and it certainly won't stink out the house. If you can't get Arbroath smokies, just poach and lightly flake some smoked Finnan haddock. Serve with soldiers of toast as a breakfast dish or a starter.
2 Arbroath smokies or about 500g smoked haddock, skinned and boned
1 leek, halved, finely shredded and washed
A couple of good knobs of butter
250-300ml double cream
4 Cotswold Legbar eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Remove the skin from the smokies, then remove the flesh from the bones, double checking that you haven't left any in. If you're using smoked haddock poach it in milk or water for 3-4 minutes, drain and break up the flesh.
Gently cook the leeks in the butter for 3-4 minutes until soft, then add the cream and smokies. Season lightly and simmer until the cream has reduced and just coating the fish. Check the seasoning and re-season if necessary.
Meanwhile soft-boil the eggs by carefully placing in simmering water for 5 minutes, then refreshing in cold water for a minute so they are cool enough to handle. Carefully peel and serve whole on the creamed smokie or cut it in half.
Curried ducks' eggs
This is one of those dishes you might find in old cookbooks such as Mrs Beeton's and Dorothy Hartley. It's a London gentlemen's club classic and probably something you would have found on the menu at Simpsons in the Strand or The Savoy, and perhaps now due for a revival. Proper curry sauce is not the sort of thing you want to start making in the early morning, so I suggest making a batch of the sauce and freezing it in little pots so that you can take them out of the freezer when required. Those domestic vacuum-pack machines – that suck the air out of a storage bag and seal it so you can freeze it and then boil in the bag – are ideal.
100g basmati rice
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp onion seeds (nigela)
4 ducks' eggs
For the sauce
A good knob of butter
2 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A small piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated or chopped
1/4tsp ground turmeric
1/4tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp curry powder
1/2tsp fennel seeds
A few curry leaves
A pinch of saffron threads
100ml fish stock (a qaurter of a good-quality cube will do, dissolved in that amount of hot water)
400ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, make the curry sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan and gently cook the shallots, garlic and ginger in it without allowing them to colour. Add all the spices and cook for another minute to release their flavours. Add the flour and stir on a low heat for a minute, then gradually stir in the fish stock, bring to the boil and allow it to reduce by half. Pour in the cream and simmer until it has reduced by about two-thirds and thickened. Blend the sauce in a liquidiser or with a stick blender until smooth and strain it through a fine-meshed sieve. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Rinse the rice a couple of times in cold water to remove any starch and cook it in plenty of boiling salted water with the cumin and nigela seeds for about 12-15 minutes until just cooked. Briefly drain in a colander and return it to a pan off the heat with a lid on. This allows the rice to steam dry and gives it a nice light, fluffy texture.
To serve, soft boil the eggs for 5 minutes then run under the cold tap for a couple of minutes so you can peel them; you can hard boil them if you wish or cook them so that they are somewhere in between; it's up to you. Re-heat the sauce, spoon the rice into a warmed bowl, place the egg on top and spoon the sauce over.
Hog's pudding and sweetbreads on toast
Hog's pudding is one of those very local things; in fact I think I've only come across it a couple of times in London. Philip Warren in Launceston (www.philipwarrenbutchers.co.uk; 01566 772089) produce a good hog's pudding and theirs was the exact one I had at the St Moritz. It's produced in both Devon and Cornwall and generally made from pork, suet, oatmeal and sometimes with offal blended in. At the risk of sounding sexist, this is a bit of a man's dish and could easily be served as a lunch or tea-time snack.
150-180g hog's pudding, cut into rough 11/2-cm chunks
150-180g lambs' sweetbreads, trimmed of fat and washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of bread
Blanch the sweetbreads in simmering, lightly salted water for 2 minutes, then drain and cut into even-sized pieces. Heat the butter in a heavy-based frying pan, season the sweetbreads and fry them, along with the hog's pudding on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes until golden. Meanwhile toast the bread on both sides and serve the hog's pudding and sweetbreads spooned on top.
Macroom buttermilk porridge with stewed rhubarb
Donal Creedon produces some of the finest oatmeal I have come across. He produces small quantities in his mill in Macroom in County Cork and it has a delicious toasted flavour that gives the porridge a completely different character from your normal run-of-the-mill stuff. You can buy it from Neal's Yard Dairy (www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk). It's currently the Yorkshire Triangles forced rhubarb season – so what better an accompaniment for this creamy buttermilk porridge?
For the porridge
750ml whole milk
2tbsp caster sugar
For the rhubarb
500g rhubarb, trimmed
100g caster sugar, or more if you wish
Bring the whole milk and sugar to a simmer, then stir in the oatmeal and simmer on a very gentle heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring every so often. A diffuser plate is always handy for this. Stir in the buttermilk. The porridge should be a spooning consistency, but if you're not going to use it straight away, you can always add more buttermilk at the end; make sure you cover it, as it will continue to thicken as it cools.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the rhubarb into rough 2cm pieces and scatter with the sugar, cover with foil and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. If a lot of liquid has come out of the rhubarb, drain it off into a small saucepan and simmer until it has thickened then mix with the rhubarb. Serve hot, warm or cold, spooned over the porridge.