Crisp fried bread

Fried bread isn’t for everyone. I like it for breakfast with an “egg in the hole” (what some call an “egg in the basket” though it is also known by a variety of other expressions such as “bullseye eggs”, “eggs in a frame”, “eggs in a nest”, “gas house eggs”, “gas house special”, “gasthaus eggs”, “hole in one”, “one-eyed Jack”, “one-eyed Pete”, “pirate’s eye”, and “popeye”; the name “toad in the hole” is sometimes used for this dish though that name more commonly refers to sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding batter). This dish is also known from its frequency in many films including Mary Jane’s Pa (1935) with actor Guy Kibbee, Moon Over Miami (1941) with actress Betty Grable, V for Vendetta (2005) with actors Hugo Weaving and Stephen Fry and my personal favourite Moostruck (1987) with actors Cher and Nicolas Cage.

To fully appreciate fried bread the slice has to be thick. The oil (or should I speak more generically and call it the lubricant) should be any fat of some distinction, good quality butter of course, virgin olive oil or my latest favourite (exactly because it is so indistinguishable) avocado oil.  Basically though whatever pleases your palate for the extravagance that is oil.

The choice of bread is equally critical. It has been advanced by some that a waffle or bagel (with a large enough hole) can also be substituted for the slice of bread. I don’t accept that. The bread is the central feature of crisp fried bread. Proximity to a favourite bakery helps. When I first experimented with crisp fried bread we were in Sardegna at Porto Rafael on the northeast shore quite literally overlooking the Isola Maddalena almost directly across the Tyrhennian Sea from Rome. Nearby along the coast was a bakery we happened to discover. I don’t think the identity of this bakery was anything more than chance. But it was a fortuitous encounter on the evening of our arrival. The bread was freshly baked and heavy.  I chose a large dark loaf.  There were as well a selection of Mediterranean hams (Prosciutto di Parma) from which I randomly selected.

Villa Luna, Sardegna

When preparing my egg in the hole the following morning, I had arisen early. Everyone else was still asleep (and to speak honestly, likely dreary from last evening’s festivity). I was alone in the kitchen, a dangerous beginning. Everything about the concoction was new to me. I am by no stretch a cook. I suspect I was driven more by the adage that the best sauce for any meal is an appetite. Yet somehow I knew I had the ingredients for what I hoped would prove to be a passable breakfast. Aside from locating a reasonable frying pan in the spacious kitchen, my only real culinary contribution to the enterprise was my adventitious removal through the kitchen door to the backyard garden where I discovered a hedge of rosemary bushes. While I am no agriculturalist, the recognition was solely on account of its aromatic bouquet. I perhaps stretched the bucolic atmosphere of the early morning endeavour by chatting (as far as possible by means of sign language and minimal Italian) with the straw-hatted gardener.

Upon re-entering the kitchen with my collection of fresh rosemary prickles in hand, I first proceeded to cut a large slice of bread from the centre of the loaf. While I’ve read that some television actor used a revolver to make the hole in the bread, I confined my talent to the use of small circumference glass. After oiling and heating the frying pan, I then turned the bread into the oil on both sides, sprinkling shreds of the rosemary onto the oiled bread. At a propitious moment I cracked an egg into the hole; and when it too seemed close to getting cooked, I popped a slice of the ham onto the whole (pardon the pun).

May I say the result was the Sacrament of Heaven! If my memory serves me correctly I may even have added a slice of Pecorino cheese. In fact I have no doubt I did.  It was something else we bought at the bakery the night before.