hardboiled eggs in meatballs

I happen to like scotch eggs. One of the fun things to me, on top of liking the taste, is messing with people’s minds in regard to them. See, it’s very unlikely they were invented by the scots.

Let’s put it this way. Despite a lot of cookbooks and meals discussed in reports from the region that were written in the 1700s, the earliest recipe we have comes from 1809. On the other hand there’s the nargizi kofta. Same thing: ground and spiced meat wrapped around a hard-boiled egg, then cooked. Though the particular spelling I used is Indian, phonetically similar labels for exactly the same dish can be found from Greece to India, throughout not only the Arabic nations but into Bulgaria and Romania as well. More painful for the Scots’ egos, recipes can be found in some of these nations from significantly earlier. In Persia, for example, the dish is described in a meal in the 1400s. Of course you can find plain and fancy. Fancy – as for the 1400s dish I mentioned – means the meat is split open (halved or quartered) and a sauce or gravy is poured over it. Plain is, well, something to be wrapped and carried till lunch time.

I suspect – and it’s only a suspicion – that Scottish soldiers in India and the middle east saw the meal and found it a handy type of meal to carry around for a mid-day supplement. They carried the idea home, and it underwent a minor transformation from lamb with Indian/Persian spices to mutton with European spices, and from there to the current pork sausage. You still see the two versions; plain and fancy.

Despite this, I still tend to call the dish scotch eggs. And I’d like to discuss cooking them – with a handful of tricks I’ve picked up over the years.

First, don’t bother trying to undercook the egg. Go ahead and take it to hard boiled. The cooking of the sausage won’t do that much to the egg. On the other hand, try not to cook the egg to rubber in the first place. The best I’ve found is the classic method. Put the eggs in a pot, add enough water to cover with an additional inch, and bring the pot to a boil. Put on a lid, remove from the heat, and allow to set for ten minutes. Immediately plunge the eggs into cold water – this will simultaneously stop the cooking and cause the egg to contract slightly from the shell, making it easier to peel.

Make the sausage layer thin. In my experience this is a typical error most folk make. A thick layer takes longer to cook and is more likely to crack due to the disparate cooking times. About 1/4 inch thick is the goal. I tend to flatten the sausage to a sheet first (on wax paper, so I can peel it off) instead of trying to form it around the egg in the first place.

Egg washes. It’s pretty obvious to most folk that if you’re going to bread the dish (I don’t, but it is ‘traditional’) you have to use an egg wash first so the crumbs adhere. What most folk don’t know is that you should egg wash the egg before wrapping the sausage, too. Dry the egg after peeling, run through an egg wash, then add the sausage. Then egg wash, and roll in bread (or cracker) crumbs for breading. The thing is the egg wash will help the sausage adhere to the egg. This means after you’ve taken the first bite or two you don’t have an egg spinning in or falling out of the sausage shell.

Cooking. Deep frying is the fastest, and only takes about 4-5 minutes per batch. On the other hand setting up deep fryers is a pain in the rear and (for me) a mess to clean after. Less problematic is pan frying. If you have half an inch to an inch of oil you can turn the eggs frequently to get a similar effect to pan frying, but you’re going to take longer. About ten minutes in my experience, but go till the sausage is done. Baking in the oven takes 15-20 minutes, doesn’t give the crispy brown exterior of frying, but is significantly less messy.

Wrap some chopped or ground meat around a hard-boiled egg, and cook till the meat is done. Eat it hot, or take it on a picnic. Bring along a dipping sauce if you like – mustard and chili sauces are just a starting point. If you want to be fancy, split it and serve it with a curry poured over it as well as the rice, or with a simple sausage gravy if you prefer. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but if you like sausage and eggs this might just hit the spot.

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