One of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday in London is to head to Hampstead with a few friends, take a stroll up Parliament Hill and then down to the Bull and Last for a pint and one (or more) of their awesome Scotch eggs. When they cut the egg in half to reveal a soft, oozy centre, we always have a conversation marvelling at how they make them like this.
I was on a stag weekend a few months ago with a guy who once headed up the Prince of Wales’s kitchen (the sister pub to the B&L in Putney, not Charles’s) and claimed to have been the first person to have put Scotch eggs on the menu. I foolishly didn’t ask him what the secret was. Fortunately, however, the current Heston recipe card on promotion at Waitrose reveals all. It’s an interesting recipe to put out there – almost a challenge to the supermarket’s customers, and one that I was up for.
The secret to the runny yolk centre is, fairly obviously, cooking the eggs to start with so that they’re barely even soft boiled. Heston tells us to place the eggs in cold water over a high heat and, once simmering, start a timer for “exactly” 1 minute and 45 seconds. It’s difficult to be precise as to when water starts simmering. So I really wasn’t sure when the timing should begin. Because I was so keen not to overcook the egg, I suspect I started my stop-watch too early. As a result, peeling the eggs (the whites of which could barely support the viscous contents) was seriously tricky and secretly nerve wracking. Next time I shall cook the eggs for a touch longer.
It was also slightly difficult heating oil to 190 C without a thermometer. I first tested the temperature by dropping a garlic clove in and seeing if the oil bubbled. It did. What I should have done was use breadcrumbs rather than garlic and check how they cooked. But I wasn’t thinking clearly (the burst of adrenaline from peeling the eggs had affected my logic) and my first effort was furiously attacked by oil that was way too hot. I only just saved it from ruin (you’ll see from the blurred pictures that the egg cut in half was a little beyond golden).
For my second egg I let the oil cool a little and tested that it was not so violently hot with a few breadcrumbs. The resulting colouring was much more pleasing. I had also tweaked the method by this stage and double crumbed the meaty egg (i.e. repeated the flour, egg, breadcrumb routine). I would recommend doing this.
I served the Scotch eggs on a wooden board with some watercress, some English mustard, and a nice ale on the side. Because it made me feel like I was in a gastro pub on Highgate Road.
Heston’s Scotch eggs
Makes 8 [I only made two and guessed at the quantities - I have a sneaking suspicion you'll need a bit more than 450g of sausagemeat if you want to make 8.]
10 medium eggs; 450g sausagemeat; 1 heaped tsp thyme leaves; 45g mustard; 1/2 level tsp cayenne pepper [I used a mix of cayenne and paprika]; salt & pepper; hand full of chopped chives; plain flour; 50ml milk; 125g breadcrumbs; and ground nut oil for frying.
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C. Place 8 eggs in a large pan with enough cold water to cover them by 2cm and place over a high heat. As soon as the water starts to simmer, set a timer for 1 minute 45 seconds exactly. While the eggs are cooking, fill a bowl with cold water and ice and after the exact time has elapsed, take the eggs out of the saucepan and plunge them into the water to cool.
2. Place the sausagemeat in a bowl and add the thyme, mustard, cayenne pepper, salt & pepper, chopped chives and 2 tablespoons of water. Mix thoroughly and form 8 patties with your hands (dip your hands in cold water if the mix sticks). Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
3. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, gently remove the shells. Flatten each pattie into a circle and place an egg in the centre. Wrap the sausagemeat around the egg, pressing the edges in order to seal it but being careful not to press to hard.
4. Put the flour into a small bowl and season. In a second small bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the milk. Put the breadcrumbs into a third bowl. Roll each egg in the flour, gently tapping off any excess, then dip it in the beaten egg and finally, roll it in the breadcrumbs, making sure that all sides are coated. [I recommend repeating the flour, egg, breadcrumb process.]
5. Heat a deep fat fryer to 190 C or fill a saucepan with oil deep enough to cover the eggs and heat to 190 C. Fry the Scotch eggs 2 at a time for 2 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a drying rack over a baking tray. When all the eggs have been fried, place the tray in the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Serve immediately while the yolks are still runny.