Flash in the Pan 

Take it greasy

Big greasy breakfast (BGB) is an American tradition that predates the diners and greasy spoons where it came of age. It's a breakfast that nourished colonies, powered pioneers and helped homesteaders break the plains. It's a breakfast that requires no fresh ingredients, and thus can be made with nonperishable ingredients all winter long, even in places like North Dakota or Canada.

Bacon, eggs and potatoes form the backbone of this big greasy meal. Bacon provides both meat and grease, and can be substituted with olive oil and other meat if you like. Whether your grease is pork fat, butter or oil, it's important that it be of the highest quality. Potatoes give their earthy starch to the meal, and can be substituted with biscuits. Although I prefer my carbohydrates unprocessed, the pioneers did love them some flapjacks. As for eggs, there is simply no substitute in my big greasy heart. You either have them or you don't. If you don't, it isn't a BGB.

There are also some condiments worth having close at hand that will help make the most of your BGB. Did the pioneers have hot sauce? Probably not, which is depressing to think about. But the most pressing question is did they have coffee?

Like wine, coffee makes flavor stand out, the way yellow and purple make one another more brilliant. Coffee and wine, like hot sauce or mayo, are condiments, added at serving time and chewed with the meal. They are also drug-delivering beverages whose creation is as much art as science, with distinct home regions, individual terroirs and nerdy descriptor words like "bouquet."

Unlike wine, morning vino can be enjoyed all day long without putting you to sleep or giving you a hangover. In fact, a good cup of coffee, with a BGB on the side, is a respected remedy for (and prophylactic against) hangovers. It's almost as if wine and coffee were created together as a beautiful daily cycle of buzz-managing, food-enhancing beverages.

Some foods go well with either wine or coffee, like steak, fried fish or lasagna. But the BGB dances only with coffee, even at night. I think it's because of the eggs, which stand out against the dark, firm floor provided by coffee. The combination is habit-forming. If I have egg in my mouth but no coffee then I'm going to be frustrated. Period.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ARI LEVAUX

The fact that there is no freshly grown produce in a BGB makes it a great wintertime breakfast for local-foods freaks. In these plush modern times of Tamworth bacon and other specialty greasy meats, not to mention condiments galore, the rustic roots of BGB can be dolled up in wondrous fashion.

Along with coffee and hot sauce, the final condiment in most BGB equations are creamy products like cheese, sour cream or mayo. My favorite crème by far is a fake mayo called Vegenaise. It may seem strange to put a vegan product atop your BGB, but it's all about efficacy and getting the job done. On that note, I'll leave you with some advice on making a simple BGB in a single pan. You know, for when you're camping, or just have one clean pan, or don't want to create extra dishes, or feeling just lazy.

First, fry some bacon pieces on low/medium heat, with added olive oil if the bacon is lean. Thin slice some potatoes and add them to the pan, and let them slowly cook. Arrange the potato slices to maximize contact with the pan. Do the same with carrots, if you wish. The bacon will be done cooking and needs to be temporarily removed from the pan so it doesn't burn, long before the potatoes are done. To speed the potatoes you can add a little water to the pan, and seal it with a lid (leave the bacon in). When the water steams off the potatoes will be done and starting to crisp in the remaining oil. Keeping the pan below medium allows potatoes and meat to slowly brown and crisp without burning. If you haven't already made coffee, do it now.

When the potatoes are nearly cooked, add any additional meat you wish to include. Along with steak, most any kind of sausage, made with good meat and fat, will do as well.

When meat and potatoes are cooked, add some chopped garlic. Then, clear a spot on the bottom of the pan by pushing potatoes and meat to the sides. If the spot doesn't look greasy enough, add some oil. Turn the pan up to medium and wait for it to heat, then add some beaten eggs to the hot oil.

Even though everything is going to the same place, I make an attempt to keep the eggs, potatoes and meat separate from each other, which becomes increasingly difficult as you scramble the eggs. I let the eggs cook a moment before scrambling, to build up some body. But don't burn them. If you do, you might well go back to bed and start over.

The opportunities afforded by bacon, eggs and potatoes are near endless. If I'm not in a hurry I might soft boil the eggs and set them atop browned potatoes and crispy greasy meat, or scramble the eggs in oil with salt and pepper and serve them on the side in their unadulterated bright yellow splendor. Or I might fry them sunny-side-up, and when the bottoms are done but the tops are still gooey pour in a shot of water and put the lid on briefly; the steam will lightly cook the tops. Or, at dinner, scramble the eggs with steamed broccoli and Patak's curry sauce.

Whatever you do, just make sure the coffee's on.

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