Like any expatriate Brit of a hundred years ago, I love the triple K
breakfast: kippers kedgeree and kidneys offered from chafing-dishes on a sideboard the size of a sacrificial altar, albeit a secular one.
The awfulness of British breakfasts begat a backlash
as seen by the success of St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, and The Hope
in Smithfield, London, which both now offer authentic morning menus.
The traditional Boxing-day breakfast offers the time-tried opportunity to
return to leisurely English forenoon fare and give it a festive twist.
Readers will know that there are two great sporting feeds at that time – the Boxing Day meet and the Boxing Day shoot. Though both breakfasts are informal affairs, the nosebag for the hunt party is not necessarily what the guns digest. Let’s start
with the shots.
The Shooting Breakfast
Naturally, many of us shall have had a punishing previous evening and may require a little steadying. If the wildfowler insists upon comestibles at cockcrow, established wisdom is for a course of fish and these islands lack for none of it: whiting, plaice, sole, soft roes on toast,
finnan haddie with scrambled eggs and salmon kedgeree. But let’s begin with a brace of kippers.
For the gentleperson in quest of restoration, the kippered herring is your only man. I have bought mine from Robson’s in Craster since I was a child.The kippers should be grilled and served without ornament of any kind save for lashings of coarse brown bread,
with perhaps a morsel of butter, to dislodge any fine bones encountered by the too-eager eater. Black Velvet is an acceptable workaday kipper complement but on Boxing Day, champagne is a must.
from the Hindi khichri, is a fine early morning dish consisting of flaked fish, basmati rice and butter. It originated among expats during the Raj at a time when fish caught in the early morning could be eaten while it was still fresh. Smoked salmon is a good basis for kedgeree but finnan haddie is better. Add dhal to
give it that pukka Anglo-Indian flavour and garnish with boiled eggs and
coriander, though parsley is more traditional. If kedgeree strikes one as too labour intensive simply add finnan haddie to scrambled eggs.
Game was once a firm favourite for the first meal of
the day. “During the shooting parties, hot game and grilled pheasants always appeared on the breakfast table but were served, of course, without vegetables,” recalled Lady Raglan (The English Breakfast by Kaori O’Connor) while the 1901 edition of Beeton’s Book of Household Management suggested game pie and JB Priestley reminisced “galantines and cold roast partridge,
ptarmigan, pheasant and grouse…” are all fare game with vegetables ineligible.
The breakfast menu for Windsor Castle on 11 February, 1904 featured Becassines sur canapés and snipe are still popular with the guns; simply grilled and teetering on a tranche of toast to collect savoury drippings, they are a toothsome extra to a morning buffet.
Snipe are shot where you find them. They fly like demented fruit bats and are as difficult to shoot as they are good to eat. I begin shooting them about 12 days before Boxing Day and age any shot, in feather, in the refrigerator. I have eaten lots of them fresh, grilled on the day of shooting and they are excellent. Your snipe is never skinned, but always plucked; this way one retains the subcutaneous fat essential to self-barding.
We find a good helping is two birds each accompanied by a thick slice of
sautéed foie gras for dinner. At breakfast one piles one’s plate with as many as one wishes.
The Hunting Breakfast
As the guns preparing for the shoot like fish and winged game, so the hunt
party will eat mixed grill: lamb chops, kidneys, and so on. Nothing stirs the blood like a steaming dish of
No one has done more to rehabilitate the proper British breakfast than chef/director of St John Bread and Wine Fergus Henderson. “If breakfast has to bring you round or set you up for the rigours of the day, then no question, devilled kidneys on toast washed down by Black Velvet. It will put colour back in your cheeks where there is not.” Devilling was once limited to the use of hot chutneys but nowadays is more readily associated with a mustard sauce but chillies, too, can be employed by the adventurous.
Our croissant-nibbling neighbours may know us as les rosbifs but at breakfast we have a propensity for pork: dry-cured York and brine-cured Wiltshire hams, smoked bacon chops, great gammon steak and coils of Cumberland sausage all make fine forenoon fare. Life-threatening marbled Scottish beef steaks and artery-clogging juicy New Zealand lamb chops with black and white pudding can all be eaten on a feast day without suffering a seizure. Fill up the cracks with toast liberally trowelled with Patum Peperium (the gentleman’s relish) or,
for the sweet of tooth, thick-cut Dundee marmalade.