Fries, farls and bakes
They know how to get the day off to a good start in the North, and they’re partial to a wee bun, too, writes DOMINI KEMP
WHETHER YOU CALL it an Ulster fry or Irish breakfast, there’s something utterly care-free about gorging on so much deliciously salty fat and protein before noon. It is also one of the simplest and most delicious meals you can have and I often think it tastes even better when eaten in the evening.
I ploughed through several books to get a few different opinions on what constitutes an Ulster fry, and what is clear is that soda farls play an important part in the proceedings. I can’t remember the last time I made soda bread, which is shameful, but honest.
A bit like speaking a foreign language, I’m always extremely reluctant at the start, but once I stumble through the first few bits of the process, I realise it’s not that scary. Just unfamiliar. Soda bread is particularly good if – like mine – your bread-making skills leave a lot to be desired.
I liked Paula McIntyre’s recipe from her book, A Kitchen Year the best, and added just a little more buttermilk to the recipe. It only needs the briefest of kneading and the texture was remarkably like those rubber balls people squeeze to alleviate stress. In other words, it’s a rather pleasing and relaxing texture. Soft, but not sticky, so it makes you want to keep kneading – which you don’t need to do. In fact, you’ll ruin it, so stop kneading and buy a stress ball instead.
Apparently, some old caffs throw the soda farls into deep fat fryers, but this is a cardinal sin and if you contemplate such heresy against the Ulster fry, then you should put those eggs down and stop right now.
McIntyre (and many chefs) recommend cutting the dough into quarters and then frying them on a griddle pan for about eight minutes on each side. But I found this didn’t work too well as the inside was too raw. So I decided to put the seared bits of bread into the oven at 180 degees/gas 4 and bake for about 25 minutes until I got the desired hollow sound when I tapped the base.
Tray bakes are big news in Ulster: there’s one called a Fifteen – with 15 ingredients including cherries, marshmallows, condensed milk and chocolate chips – which sounded a bit too scary.
Instead, I borrowed a gluten-free cookie recipe from a pal Sinead, who reluctantly gave me the recipe as she kept protesting that it’s an assembly job rather than hard and fast baking. But we ate them one day at her house and they were gorgeous. I didn’t believe how easy they were, or even what was in them till I made them. They can be done as a tray bake, but actually work better as mini cookies.
Buy the best of everything for this. Good sausages, bacon and eggs. Make the soda bread recipe below. In a large frying pan, start with a knob of butter and splash of olive or rapeseed oil. Fry your rashers, then add the sausages. You may have to remove the rashers for a few minutes to finish the sausages. Then make a little room and add the soda farls. They will soak up all that excess fat which will taste wonderful. Make a little more room and add some cherry tomatoes or a couple of halved tomatoes. Then when everything looks ready, crack a couple of eggs on the pan and leave on a low heat to finish off. Once it looks reasonably set, dig in, preferably straight from the pan.