What is a Scotch egg? The history of Scotch eggs is fascinating and contains some controversy. Many people and organizations claim to have invented this unique culinary creation. Everyone wants to say they were first. However, before I talk about the origin story of the Scotch egg, I feel I first have to discuss what exactly a scotch egg is.
What is a Scotch Egg Anyway?
A Scotch egg is a common picnic food in England . In the UK you can buy packaged Scotch eggs in supermarkets, corner shops and gas stations. A classic Scotch egg is a soft boiled egg that has been completely wrapped in sausage. It is then breaded and baked or fried. I can’t find anything wrong with this food. Anytime you can combine sausage, eggs, and deep frying, I’m gonna be there.
In the UK there are different versions and variations. You have mini Scotch eggs that are chopped up eggs or a quail egg. Sometimes they make an egg salad out of the chopped egg by adding some mayonnaise or chopped bacon. I swear this just keeps getting better and better! However, in my mind it shouldn’t be an either or with the mayonnaise or chopped bacon. Let’s just add both. Give the people what they really want, right?
In the UK these are often served cold. In the US they are served in British-style pubs. They are often served hot with dipping sauces like ranch dressing or hot sauce. If there is one thing you can count on in America it’s that we are going to find a way to fry something and cover it in sauce. It’s just a formula that continues to work well.
Renaissance festivals and state fairs are also locations you can find a Scotch egg in the United States. Some fairs will serve them on a stick.
Different Variations of a Scotch Egg
There are some interesting regional varieties in England. In Manchester there is a version that uses a pickled egg wrapped in a mix of pork meat and black pudding. This is called a Manchester Egg. There is a Worcester egg that uses an egg that has been pickled in Worcestershire sauce and wrapped in a mix of local sausage meat and white pudding. I had no idea what white pudding was so I looked it up quickly. It is like a black pudding except it doesn’t include the blood. There is meat, oatmeal and usually fat or suet. However, I’m not sure how much interest I have in a Scotch egg that has been pickled if I’m being honest.
History of a Scotch Egg
Now that we have covered what a Scotch egg is, let’s dive into its origin story. In 1805 a recipe for Scotch eggs appeared in an edition of Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery. This recipe did not have a breadcrumb layer that we have today. We know that one of the first instances of the name, “Scotch egg,” was in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1809. The Oxford Companion to Food theorized that the origin of a Scotch egg may be Indian koftas. That theory makes a lot of sense to me when you think about England’s history with India. A lot of Indian spices and influence came to England’s cuisine. However, I’m not sure it really stands up.
A kofta is a meatball that is stuffed with chopped hard boiled egg and spices. However, there is one burning question. If the scotch egg was inspired by an Indian dish, why were the exotic spices removed? This theory is just that, a theory.
There are many cultures through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that all have a variation of some form kofta. Some are wrapped around an egg like a Scotch egg. Each culture with a similar dish has put their own spin on it. The UK has done the same. That’s the beauty of the culinary world. Someone will have a great idea for a dish. That idea is then copied and assimilated by chefs in different cultures. Furthermore, each iteration will contain a unique twist specific to that culture.
What is a Scotch Egg: Their History in the UK
One of the earliest claims to inventing the Scotch egg came from Fortnum & Mason. This is a London department store that claims to have invented the snack back in 1738. This claim is based on documentation that was found in their archives. This documentation has since been conveniently lost.
Another claim of invention was put forward by William J. Scott & Sons. However, the date they claim doesn’t match up with the original dates found in dictionaries and cookbooks. Furthermore, their claim came almost a full 75 years after those early references. There is no way in my mind that they could possibly be the first to develop a Scotch egg. However, they do have one of the more interesting variations that I have seen.
The Scotch egg found at William J. Scott & Sons is an egg that is covered in a thick fish paste, then breaded and deep fried. That doesn’t sound good at all. They called them scorch eggs because they were cooked over an open flame.
Fortnum & Mason Comes on the Scene
Fortnum & Mason’s claim is the fascinating one to me. Furthermore, they really doubled down on their Scotch egg being the first. They are also quick to note that if they weren’t the first, that they were certainly the best. I’m going to quote from their own website:
“Back then ours consisted of a pullet’s egg – so rather smaller than a chicken’s egg – surrounded by forcemeat, dipped in egg wash and then in breadcrumbs, seasoned with salt, pepper and mace, and deep fried. At the time, we referred to it as a ‘scotched’ egg because of anchovies added to the meat to give it a stronger flavour, and to cut through the fattiness of the meat.
Then came the dark days. A shortage of meat during the Second World War meant that the quality of the Scotch Egg suffered, and we lost our confidence somewhat. Food manufacturing embraced technology more and more, and by the 1960s and ‘70s, our breadcrumbed hero lost its superpowers thanks to less-than-satisfactory rivals who were using inferior, over-processed meat and the wrong kind of breadcrumbs. As a result it became perceived by many to be rather naff and unfashionable.
Through these turbulent times it’s been up to us to keep the standard going and maintaining its position as a desirable product – at least when Fortnum’s produces it. Always made with care and love, ours is the real thing.”
Fortnum & Mason Wrapped Up
I love that. I love how it has been up to them to keep the standard going. Furthermore, it is also interesting to see that they have changed their recipe over time. For example, today they do not add anchovy to the ground meat.
Whether or not they were first isn’t a huge deal to me. It is nice to see them continue this fantastic tradition.
For me the idea of an egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried is mind blowing. It sounds like an amazing dish. However, according to a survey done in 2019, Scotch eggs were found to be one of Britain’s least liked foods. It was right up there with bubble and squeak, beef Wellington, Lancashire hotpot, pork pies and steak and kidney pies.
I don’t personally understand that, oh well.
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