You’ve Had the Full English, Now Try the Full French
The UK has the corner covered on the “full” breakfast. The classic full English is eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, roasted tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms, accompanied by bread which is either toasted or fried in the pan the bacon and sausages were cooked in. A full Irish often incorporates white pudding and roasted potatoes. And a full Scottish adds some oatmeal porridge, and swaps out the toast for tattie scones, made from leftover mashed potatoes. Even here in the States, our classic American breakfast is inspired by the Brits, with our eggs, breakfast meats, hashed browns, and toast.
But when you think of French breakfast, you think mostly of flaky pastries bolstered by coffee. That is delicious, but not so much a breakfast you might call a “full.”
On a recent trip to a Paris flea market, I scored a sweet vintage Le Creuset enameled cast iron bean pot. Please do not express your shock that some idiot would schlep cast iron cookware back home from an international trip, as I am that idiot and I am very much OK with that. When I posted my new treasure on social media, a pal commented that I would be able to make some awesome Boston baked beans in my bean pot. And I could. But the truth is that I am not a huge fan of the traditional sweet and smoky baked bean. I don’t actively avoid them, but they are usually too sweet for me, and often too mushy and one-note.
The beans I was dreaming of for my little French pot were very French beans, namely tiny white beans or jade green flageolets or ruddy olive green lentils, slow-cooked with chicken stock and a splash of wine, some olive oil, a sprig of thyme and maybe a bay leaf, a whole shallot or a clove or two of garlic. These are deeply savory, slightly soupy beans that give under the gentlest pressure of the tooth to a creamy interior. And this all made me think about using the Full English as inspiration for a full French breakfast.
Swapping out the tomatoey baked beans for my beloved French beans was an easy switch. Eggs any way—my personal version would be scrambled with butter and a dollop of crème fraiche stirred in at the end—maybe a sprinkle of chives. The roasted tomato and sautéed mushroom, being summer, became a fresh tomato and raw mushroom salad lightly dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs and lemon zest. The bacon became a shaved slice or two of lovely French cured ham, and the sausages some simple slices of saucisson sec, a dried sausage redolent of fennel. If you are a black or white pudding fan, boudin noir and blanc will have your back, but as I do not love either, I will leave them off of my personal plate. And instead of toast and scones, some slices of a crusty sourdough pain de campagne and a little basket of croissants, with plenty of butter and jam.
No, it's not a breakfast for a random Tuesday morning, but I think an awesome inspiration for a Sunday brunch chez vous.
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, low sodium
1 cup dried flageolet or small white beans
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 whole shallot, peeled and halved, or 2 peeled garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
Soak the beans overnight in cold water, and drain in the morning. In a small saucepan, or bean pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the salt, and stir to dissolve. Add the soaked, drained beans, then tuck in the aromatics, drizzle the olive oil on top and turn the heat down to medium low, simmering gently for about 90 minutes until the beans are cooked but not mushy, and the liquid has mostly absorbed.
Remove from heat, discard the thyme sprigs, bay leaf and shallot or garlic, and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Drizzle again with a bit of olive oil and stir in the lemon zest if you like.
Serve warm or at room temperature. It's delicious for lunch with a can of olive-oil packed tuna flaked on top.
Tomato and Mushroom Salad
Per person you would like to serve
1 small to medium tomato, preferably vine ripened
½ cup of fresh thinly sliced mushrooms, cremini or white button work fine, but if you can find a meatier one like a king trumpet, it is worth the upgrade here
1 ½ teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs of your choice, chervil, tarragon, chives and parsley are all great here
Chop the tomatoes in generous chunks and put into a bowl with all of their juices. Stir in your sliced mushrooms, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with herbs and salt and pepper to your taste. If you want to add a bit more punch, a splash of light vinegar wouldn’t go amiss, but you want the main flavor to be the fresh tomatoes and mushrooms.
Let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving so that the mushrooms really absorb the flavors. If you wanted to make a great lunch salad, toss in some chunky croutons of toasted sourdough and serve over some chopped romaine.