Chefs around the world riff on the centuries-old sausage-and-egg grenade
Understanding the history of the Scotch egg—a lightly boiled runny egg traditionally encased in sausage, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried—requires embarking on a bit of a goose chase. Luxury British food emporium Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented the breaded egg treat at its Piccadilly headquarters in the 18th century. Its claim, however, lies in an archive that was inexplicably pilfered in the 1950s. Similarly, Annette Hope’s A Caledonian Feast, widely acknowledged as the definitive culinary history of Scotland, suggests the Scotch egg hails from the British Raj in the form of an Indian specialty called nargisi kofta. While the sausage-wrapped egg assumes center stage, all its accompanying spices seem to be lost in translation.
The most plausible and popular theory is best summed up by the Scottish amateur historian Zoe Harrod. Experimenting with the scotch egg formula, she’s created a whipped cream and berry cranachan ice cream Scotch egg. Harrod says that “in the 18th century, to get eggs from London to Scotland, the British preserved them in Lyme. That had the awful effect of turning the eggs brown in color and making them very salty. To overcome that, they decided to wrap the eggs in sausage meat and fry them. That technique is called scotching.”
And perhaps that’s how the Scotch egg was born?
“It’s what granny used to eat,” Harrod says, “and now every ‘90s retro hipster wine bar bistro has in Scotland has a version.”
What’s known for certain is that chefs around the world can’t get enough. From meat evangelist April Bloomfield at the Breslin Bar & Dining Room in New York, to James Beard nominee Josef Centeno at Los Angeles’ Ledlow, to Scotland-based South African chef Jake Schamrel, the dish is thriving and going international.
At the Breslin, Bloomfield boils her eggs for 6.5 minutes, surrounds them with her signature house-made sausage, and seasons them with sage and nutmeg. As a child, “we used to pick them up from the butcher shop in Birmingham (England). They weren’t that amazing. The egg would be hard and breaded. We would drizzle them in some oil and they would be really overcooked,” says Bloomfield, who credits nostalgia the inspiration for her own version.
To avoid sending her eggs to a similar fate, Bloomfield finishes her Scotch eggs by deep-frying them as opposed to baking. The result: She sold 190 Scotch eggs last week, nearly 30 each day.
The intersection of 4th Street and Main in downtown Los Angeles has been coined Centenoland after Josef Centeno. The 42-year-old chef owns the restaurants Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston, Bäco Mercat, P.Y.T., and Ledlow. The Scotch egg burger and fries at Ledlow has risen to such off-menu popularity that the chef officially added the green peppercorn mustard and garlic aioli-dressed burger in September (see top photo).
“What’s old is new again,” Centeno tells me. Thumbing through some old cookbooks, Centeno spotted a Scotch egg recipe and knew he wanted to begin with a runny yolk and serve it in burger form. He already made blood sausage in-house daily.
For his nine-minute egg, Centeno constructs a pod of fennel seed, oregano, basil, chili, and garlic seasoned breakfast sausage. Dusted in flour, egg, and panko and fried to a golden brown, the Scotch egg is garnished with cheese, onion, and a dill pickle (sprinkled with added fresh sprigs of dill).
“I’ve never had a Scotch egg in LA,” Centeno says, “but I believe they’re gaining popularity. As soon as people see runny egg and sausage, they’re in.”
But fair warning, Centeno only makes 15 per day, and more often than not they sell out by mid-evening service.
A sausage-encrusted Scotch egg simply won’t do for Jake Schamrel, who owns and runs the restaurant Three Lemons in Aberfeldy, Scotland, north of Edinburgh. Currently on his menu is a whisky and black pudding-marinated venison Scotch egg as well as a smoked salmon-infused sea trout version.
“It’s quite a nutty idea, Scotch eggs,” Schamrel says. The chef collaborated with Dewar’s to create a Scotch egg and whisky pairing, which has appeared on his menu since August.
Schamrel marinates his meat in Dewar’s 12-year for one and a half days before wrapping it around his six-minute-and-ten-second boiled egg, which has been shock frozen in an ice bath post-boil. Cooked out for ten minutes, then fried for less than four, “this egg is all technique and timing. You can’t hurry the process because anything you find in a hurry is a struggle,” he says, paraphrasing Tommy Dewar, one of the founders of the namesake spirit brand.
The fish Scotch eggs take about six hours to make and go through a similar process, including a pairing with Royal Brackla, another Dewar’s whisky imprint.
Schramel has perfected his Scotch eggs to such a degree that Dewar’s has asked him to provide a weekly supply for a masterclass at the distillery, a half mile from Three Lemons. The brand launched its own Scotch Egg Club, an invite-only Speakeasy-esque space at the distillery with games like chicken shit bingo and an all too Instagrammable chain-linked curtain. According to Kara Anderson, a Dewar’s brand ambassador, the Scotch Egg Club launched in the fall and seeks to attract a younger generation to the heritage brand.
Not a bad evolution for deep-fried egg with vague origins.