Last Friday, I wrote my first post in a potentially short-lived series entitled “Love to Learn”, in which I spent a few hours researching and writing about the history of cumin, a spice I use frequently in my own recipes. Yesterday, as I sat with my wife enjoying some Thai food (there’s a Bai Tong in Issaquah!) and a refreshing beverage, my mind turned to my next subject.
My original intention was to write a short history of Scotch Ale, considering I was sipping a Maltopia, by Hermitage Brewing, at the moment of inspiration. I put down the beer, and pulled out my phone, but before I could finish thumbing “history of scotch ale” into my search bar, I got pleasantly distracted. The second item on the list of auto-completed suggestions (right under “the history of scotch tape”) was “history of scotch eggs.”
The beer momentarily forgotten, I started thinking about the last time I ordered one; at a restaurant called Woodblock, in Redmond, WA. It always amazes me when something so simply conceived – though expertly executed – can be just so GOOD.
For the uninitiated, a Scotch Egg is a hard boiled egg, covered in a layer of sausage, all of which is breaded, and fried. Woodblock’s version of this British pub staple is a free-range egg, wrapped in a layer of sausage, panko breaded and fried, and served with caramelized onions and a mustard dipping sauce. The kicker is that the egg is perfectly soft-cooked, so the yolk runs out when you first slice it, and coats the dish. I’m making myself hungry just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a personal recipe for scotch eggs to share with you. In fact, I’ve never made them at home, mostly because I can’t bring myself to deep fry anything in my own house. It seems like a terrible idea, mostly because it would allow me to justify frying more and more things, until I would eat myself out of my ability to walk. Of course, a quick search of the interwebs yields a few straightforward recipes, include a few for baked (NOT fried) versions, all of which seem to emphasize the simplicity of the Scotch Egg.
What I find interesting, is that despite its relative simplicity, the history of the dish is actually rather contentious.
I expected to find that it originated in a certain place in Scotland (hence, Scotch egg), and from there, traveled south to the pubs of England. Such might not be the case, in fact the theories of the origin of the scotch egg are as different as the potential minced meats with which to coat an egg.
There is something to be said for the theory that the scotch egg began as a simple peasant food in the pastures of the British Isles, using ingredients that farming families had on hand, and – through tradition – slowly evolved into the versions that currently grace the menus of American gastropubs. As a few articles posit, it could simply be another incarnation of the Cornish pastie, which is essentially an old English Hot Pocket filled with minced meat and veggies. I’d like to think it stands to reason that in a moment of frustration, someone went, “There’s no bread? Fine. Wrap my egg in some meat and I’ll give it a go. Pip pip. Cheerio. Bloody Wanker.” I’m unsure of the greater context of this situation; that last bit seems a little out of place. The only problem I see with this story is that it’s difficult to track foods that have been traditionally made, but have gone without documentation, potentially for generations.
There are a few written recipes from the early 1800’s that provide instruction for the creation of Scotch egg-like dishes, so of which list generic “chopped meat” and/or “anchovies” as the main ingredients for the wrapping. Many early versions also require heavy-handed additions of rich spices, like cloves, (presumably to mask the flavor of otherwise old, pungent meats), and suggest serving the egg with a healthy portion of undefined “gravy”.
In lieu of a traceable history, the luxury London brand Fortnum & Mason laid claim to the dish, stating that they began selling them in 1738 to provide wealthy travelers with portable snacks. Personally, I find the thought of carriage-riding, white-gloved debutantes, nibbling away at meat-encased eggs, simply ridiculous. But what do I know? They are delicious, after all.
It’s likely that, despite being the first company on record to sell Scotch Eggs, it’s more likely that Fortnum & Mason “perfected” rather than invented them. I think it’s actually safe to say that there’s no single traceable origin of the Scotch egg, considering hard eggs encased in meat seem to appear in various culinary forms throughout the world. Hell, “Scotch” may not even be a reference to “Scotland”, considering the term “scotch” means “to cut” in old English, so it may simply be a reference to the meat.
One of the more convincing theories of the origin of the dish is that it was carried back to England from India, where it began as Nargisi Kofta; a hard-cooked egg wrapped in mutton or lamb, which is fried, and served with a curry sauce, or yogurt-based gravy. Considering the practices of the East India Company (which operated between the 16th and 19th centuries, and led to British Imperial rule in India), it would make sense that a popular, hardy dish like this would make it’s way back to the British homeland, especially considering the proliferation of East Asian foods in the UK and around the world.
Variations of the Scotch Egg appear in other places as well, such as bakso telur (“meatball eggs”), from Indonesia, the Lebanese kafta bi beid (egg-filled meatloaf), Brazilian bolovo, Polish jaskółcze gniazda, and the Belgian gehaktbal kiekeboe, which translates to the amazing-sounding “peekaboo meatball”.
Regardless of their actual origin, the Scotch Egg is a delicious mainstay of the gastropub scene, and is worth a try. One might even say they’re EGG-celent. (DAD JOKE!!!)
Until next time, here are a few recipes to try:
Recipes (from other sites):
- Bon Appetit’s Scotch Egg Recipe
- Betty Crocker’s Baked Scotch Egg Recipe
- Kafta bi beid
- Nargisi Kofta
- jaskółcze gniazda
- Gehaktbal Kiekaboe