The Ulster Fry is the national dish of Northern Ireland. It must never be referred to as a ‘fry-up’, but can be affectionately called a ‘heart-attack on a plate’ instead. It varies from the Full English by the judicious addition of soda bread and potato farls fried to golden crispness and a soft fluffy pancake to soak up the oozing yolk of a fried egg. The sausage can be beef or pork and it can be served with either black or white pudding if to your taste. No matter which way you serve it, an proper Ulster Fry is a vast plate of fried heaven that will keep even the biggest appetite sated all day.
I only eat a real Ulster Fry about once a year on my annual pilgrimage home. Anymore than that might kill me, but it’s also because there’s something special about a fry cooked by yer mammy. It always tastes that little bit better for that. Of course the other reason I don’t eat a fry too often is that it’s difficult for me to get my hands on potato or soda bread easily. Some branches of Marks and Spencer and Waitrose stock speciality Irish breads, but sadly I don’t live near any of them. Instead I stockpile farls brought by visitors from Belfast and save them for hungover days that need grease to get through them.
This St Patrick’s Day, fresh as a daisy from the fact it fell on a Wednesday and no one else wanted to celebrate on a school night, I have decided to take advantage of my clear head and happy liver and make my own potato bread and soda bread for a proper homemade fry. It will be delicious, if not slightly inauthentic as I tend to grill the bacon and sausage and don’t fry anything in bacon fat or dripping. It’s almost healthy…
I decided that since I was going all out with the breads, I would go traditional and have beef sausages with this fry. These are extremely popular in butchers or supermarkets in Northern Ireland, but I have never seen them here. But if anyone would have them it would be the wonderful and highly under-rated Biggles of Marylebone Lane and be sure, they had some plump beef and Guinness bangers that looked mouth-watering.
Back home, I got my peeled Maris Pipers on to boil and turned my attention to making the soda bread. Buttermilk is the traditional wet ingredient in this yeast free bread, but it’s a nightmare to find here in England. I usually just sour some milk with a splash of lemon juice, but I had some yoghurt left over from a cobbler a few weeks ago, so I decided to water it down with some milk and use it instead. The dough took merely moments to come together and was easy to squash down into a circle and cut into triangles or farls. These then went into a heated floured frying pan to cook since I don’t have a griddle or an open fire. On a medium heat they took about 25 minutes to be cooked through and sound hollow when tapped.
While the soda bread was cooking, I drained and mashed my potatoes, added plenty of salt and a knob of butter and added enough flour to make a stiff dough. I then took a handful out and rolled it out on and cut into farls that went into the same hot dry frying pan as the soda farls came out of. These tattie farls take only a minute or so each side to crisp up.
The sausages went under the grill along with the tomatoes. These are an essential part of the fry to me as the sharpness cuts though the fattiness of the rest of the plate and they are a match made in heaven with soda bread. I cleaned the flour out of my frying pan and fried off the bacon without oil. Once on a plate keeping warm from the grill, I added a splash of vegetable oil and fried the potato and soda farls til golden brown as my eggs fried in the next pan over. Despite the assortment of individual bits, this is actually as very easy meal to cook. The only tricky bit is remembering to make the essential pot of tea to go with it!
Even if I do say so myself this was a spectacular fry. The potato bread was crisp and delicious, the soda bread had a slight tang from the yoghurt and was surprisingly light and fluffy. The sweet tomatoes were perfect with it and the sausages were rich and meaty with a peppery kick that complemented the eggs nicely. The bacon as always was my least favourite bit, but added a good salty note to the plate. I dispatched the lot in record time.
The best bit is that I have plenty of soda and potato bread left over so will be toasting it over the next day or two for a lighter taste of home! I look forward to my next Ulster Fry sometime in 2011. It’ll take me until then to recover from this mountain of goodness! I’m quite glad I forgot the pancakes in the end!