This cooked brunch contains less calories than two slices of toast with butter and jam
As the 'war on sugar' sees families ditch cereals, new figures show more of us are starting the day with a proper meal, writes Aoife Carrigy
Chances are that you ate an egg or two over the long weekend, and not just because Easter has long been associated with feasting on eggs, which were once off-limits during Lenten fasting. The humble egg is making a comeback as more of us make room for a proper breakfast to start the day.
Just a third of us Irish say we rarely have time for a proper breakfast, according to 2017 Bord Bia consumer research. That contrasts with 47pc in the UK, where today's figures match ours a decade ago. And almost all of us (98pc) recognise that eating less foods containing sugar would be healthier, with four out of five of us actively avoiding sugary foods.
Bread and toast remain the go-to midweek breakfast for one in three of us, according to the most recent studies conducted on behalf of Bord Bia's Consumer Insights Team. When it comes to feeding the kids first thing, however, we still report a significant gap between a desire to feed them well and the reality of making do with whatever we can get into them, even in the face of increasing fears about high levels of sugar and salt in many breakfast cereals.
The average Irish consumer eats 176 eggs a year, or an egg every other day, similar to figures in Britain where sales have been returning towards peaks not seen since the late 1970s. Retail sales of eggs are steadily increasing in Ireland too, at twice the rate of overall grocery sales (5.7pc annual increase in 2017 compared to 2.5pc). Irish shoppers spent €129million on eggs in 2017, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel - the equivalent of 576 million eggs, and an increase of two thirds compared to 2010.
"Shoppers are buying eggs more frequently (up from 23 to 30 times per annum) and buying larger volumes on each shopping trip," says Teresa Brophy of Bord Bia, pointing to the growth in sales of 12-egg packs. Almost nine out of 10 of us eat eggs for breakfast, while Teresa adds: "Irish consumers are consuming eggs more for lunch and dinner during the week and for brunch at weekends."
Further research conducted for Bord Bia (Coyne Research 2017) shows a growing realisation amongst consumers that as well as being convenient, versatile for various meals and good value for money, eggs are an excellent source of protein and vitamins.
"Eggs are nutritional powerhouses," agrees dietitian Orla Walsh. As the eggs.ie website of the Irish Egg Association explains, eggs contain substantial amounts of vitamins A, B2, B12, D and E as well as selenium, zinc, iron, copper and phosphorous. And, as any gym-loving millennial can tell you, they are a great source of protein. "Muscles and bones are active tissues, constantly turning over," Walsh says. "Unless we feed them protein at each meal, we risk losing these precious tissues."
Eggs are also surprisingly low in calories compared to that go-to 'light breakfast' of bread or toast. "A breakfast with one slice of toast, two eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes contains less calories than two slices of toast with butter and jam," Walsh says. "The egg-based meal is also more balanced, filling and will keep you fuller for longer."
Breakfast menus in cafes and restaurants are getting increasingly creative when it comes to egg-based offerings, many of them offering a lighter alternative to the full Irish breakfast or eggs Benedict.
Brother Hubbard, the Dublin cafe voted 'Ireland's best breakfast' in the Irish Independent's Reader Travel Awards, enjoy a dedicated following for their Turkish eggs menemen.
"It was the very first dish on our brunch menu and the only one that remains five years on. It captures a lot of what we're about," says owner Garrett Fitzgerald of the Turkish-spiced scrambled eggs with roast peppers, whipped feta, kalamata olives and a spicy, herby salsa. "It's food to put spring in your step and revitalise you."
Fia in Rathgar, Co Dublin, has a strong fanbase who come in especially for their free-range eggs and sautéed greens with dukkah, lemon yoghurt and sesame salt on sourdough toast - a simple dish that hinges on top-quality sourcing. "We use greens from McNally Family Farm, Le Levain bread and North Wicklow Eggs from a small family-run company in Newtownmountkennedy," says head chef Andrew Grant. "They use a top quality feed, which makes all the difference."
It's a point that was emphasised by food writer Georgina Campbell when announcing her recent Irish Breakfast Awards, in association with Fáilte Ireland.
"Quality ingredients are the foundation of any good meal," she says, but all the more so in a simple meal where attention to detail is everything. "Little things definitely count at breakfast, and can transform the ordinary into a special experience."
One commendee in Campbell's brunch category was Gather in Tuam. Their two biggest selling brunch options are their baked free-range eggs with kale and wooded pig chorizo and in-house sourdough, and their veggie breakfast of free-range poached eggs with colcannon potato cake, Galway goats' cheese and salsa verde.
"Personally I wouldn't eat anything other than free-range eggs," says Gather's chef, Siobhan Flaherty, who sources hers from producer Dermot Boyle, five miles down the road in Ballinacarrig. "It means you're paying a little bit more, but it's worth it. And it's important to our customers."
Baked eggs are particularly versatile, once you grasp the basics. Dublin's Coppinger Row do a Moroccan take with chorizo, meatballs, roast red pepper, chick peas and tzatiziki, while their sister restaurant Charlotte Quay offer shakshuka, middle-Eastern baked eggs with tomato, peppers, cumin, feta and saffron. Baking them in an oven-proof skillet means you can capture all those meaty juices in the pan, but you can always transfer the mix to an oven-proof ramekin before baking.
Baked or fried, poached or boiled, it seems like we're far from exhausting all the eggy ways to start a day.
Gather's baked eggs
Makes 1 portion, prepared and served in cast iron pan (though you could cook in a frying pan and transfer to an oven-proof ramekin).
- 175g boiled baby potatoes
- 25g Gubbeen Wooded Pig chorizo
- 150g kale
- 2 free range eggs
- 100ml homemade tomato sauce
- nutmeg, grated or powdered
- garlic, minced or grated
- Donegal rapeseed oil
- salt and pepper
- sour cream, to garnish
- fresh greens, to garnish
- Heat 1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil in a pan, add the chopped boiled baby potatoes & fry until golden.
- Season with salt and pepper, and place in small, warmed cast iron pan.
- Add the chorizo to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes until the fat renders out. Add the kale and once wilted add a little fresh minced garlic and grate in some nutmeg.
- To this add the homemade tomato sauce, then pour over the potatoes in the cast iron pan.
- Crack two free range eggs into the sauce and bake for 15 minutes in a preheated oven at 180ºC.
- Garnish with sour cream and some greens.