The day is preferably Saturday rather than the more traditional Sunday and, for some (myself included), it begins with a ripping Bloody Mary or a Guinness-like bullshot. For others, perhaps freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with champagne. The drink is every bit as important as the food, as it jolts the tummy into gear. Newspapers are essential (Saturday ones are awfully good) and clothing should be comfortable. Midday would seem about the right time to start making drinks.
A large fry-up is the simplest form of brunch. I would name seven items as essential: eggs (cooked any way), bacon (crisp streaky), black pudding, fresh lamb's kidney still in its suet, cut in half and grilled, fried bread, fried leftover boiled potatoes, and flat black mushrooms - or better still, field mushrooms. Ketchup and freshly made English mustard are essential tracklements. Thick, hot toast and marmalade are possible adjuncts (I have a worrying penchant for marmalade on fried bread, if the truth be known), but croissants are a bit mimsy.
If you wish to push the boat out, consider kedgeree or an omelette Arnold Bennett. Devilled kidneys, toad-in-the-hole and deep bacon quiche are other possibilities. But the most important thing about brunch is that the food should be intensely savoury, filling and relatively comforting. It should also last till about 4pm.
Eggs Benedict, serves 4
Still the favourite of brunch eaters all over the world, this is an unbeatable combination - eggy, bready and buttery. I prefer to use crisp bacon rather than the traditional slice of ham; it adds a more pleasing texture.
8 rashers rindless streaky bacon
4 English muffins
8 very fresh eggs
splash of vinegar
for the hollandaise sauce
3 large egg yolks
225g/8oz unsalted butter, melted, left to settle in the pan and kept warm
juice of half a lemon
salt and white pepper
a little chopped parsley, to serve
First grill the bacon until crisp, and drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm in a low oven. Cut the muffins in half ready for toasting and leave the grill lit from cooking the bacon. Put a pan of water on to boil with the vinegar.
To make the hollandaise, whisk the egg yolks with a splash of water until thick. Use either a small, stainless-steel pan over a thread of heat, or a bowl over barely simmering water. Remove any scum from the surface of the butter, and add to the eggs in a thin stream, whisking constantly, until the consistency is similar to mayonnaise. Add the lemon juice and season. Keep warm.
Poach the eggs in the vinegared water and toast the muffins under the grill. Put two muffin halves on each plate and arrange the bacon on top (you may have to halve the rashers to fit). Carefully lay the eggs on top and spoon over the hollandaise. At this stage, I flash each serving under the grill for a few seconds just to glaze the sauce. However, watch out if you do this, as it burns readily. Sprinkle over some parsley and serve.
Smoked haddock pancakes with curry cream sauce, serves 4
These are creamy and soft, with spice to add savour. It makes me feel greedy just thinking about them.
450g/1lb undyed smoked haddock fillets, boned
700ml/114 pints milk
2 bay leaves
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 heaped tsp flour
3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped
1 heaped tbsp chopped coriander
for the pancake batter
55g/2oz plain flour
150ml/14 pint milk
28g/1oz butter, melted
a little more melted butter for greasing
for the curry cream sauce
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp tomato puree
1 level tbsp flour
275ml/12 pint milk, from cooking the smoked haddock
2 tsp mango chutney
75ml/3fl oz cream
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
Make the pancake batter by blending the ingredients in a liquidiser. Pour through a sieve into a jug and allow to stand for at least half an hour. Using a 15-cm/6-in frying pan, melt a small amount of butter in the pan and allow to sizzle. Pour in enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly. (If the first pancake turns out a bit of a mess, chuck it out.) Make eight pancakes and put on one side.
Cut the haddock into manageable pieces that will fit snugly into a pan, and pour over the milk. Add the bay leaves and poach ever so gently for about 5 minutes. Leave in the milk to cool to lukewarm. Now lift out the fish, put on to a plate and lift off the skin. Flake the flesh into a bowl and put on one side.
Melt the butter in a small pan, fry the spring onions until soft and add the teaspoon of flour. Cook very gently for a couple of minutes and then add 14 pint of the cooking milk to form an onion sauce. Mix into the flaked fish along with the eggs and coriander. Check the seasoning. Divide between the eight pancakes and neatly roll up, tucking in the ends as you go. Place in a lightly buttered ovenproof dish and set on one side.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
To make the sauce, fry the onion in the butter until pale golden. Add curry powder and allow to cook gently for 3-4 minutes. Mix in tomato puree and add flour. Stir well and pour in the half pint of poaching milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and add mango chutney. Cook on a low flame for about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean pan and add the cream. Bring back to a simmer and add lemon juice. Check seasoning and pour over the pancakes. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, until bubbling and lightly burnished. Sprinkle with coriander leaves if desired.
Bullshot, serves 4
This has remarkable qualities as a hangover cure and is a deliciously savoury drink, if you like that kind of thing. Campbell's condensed consomme is the thing to use here. I have tried others - Lusty's and Baxter's, for example - and apart from them jelling as they are shaken over the ice, they just don't taste right. The celery salt is essential.
75ml/3fl oz Absolut pepper vodka
55ml/2fl oz dry sherry
2 tsp Lea & Perrins
1 tsp Tabasco
juice 1 small lime
1 x 295g can Campbell's condensed consomme
Put plenty of ice into a large cocktail shaker (if yours is small, make two batches) and add everything except the celery salt. Shake vigorously and strain into small tumblers. The result should resemble small glasses of Guinness. Sprinkle the surface with celery salt - newly purchased, please - and serveReuse content