10 Ways to Reinvent Breakfast

Go beyond bagels and bacon

By Roxanne Webber

Punch up your breakfast with fried rice.
Punch up your breakfast with fried rice.

Eggs taste better over black bean cakes.
Eggs taste better over black bean cakes.

Pancetta: breakfast meat that's not bacon!
Pancetta: breakfast meat that’s not bacon!

It’s easy to fall back on standby dishes for breakfast, whether it’s your in-a-rush bowl of cold cereal on weekday mornings or your lack-of-imagination pancakes on weekends. But there are plenty of quick, easy things you can make instead. We chatted with some creative chefs to put together this selection of fresh ideas for the first meal of the day.

1. Savory Porridge. In many other countries, hot cereal isn’t eaten with a bunch of brown sugar dumped on it. Anita Lo, chef/owner of Rickshaw Dumpling Bar and Annisa in New York City, suggests making an easy Chinese rice porridge by boiling leftover cooked rice in some stock until it falls apart and has a porridgelike consistency. For toppings, she says to just use up whatever leftovers you’ve got handy, like chopped-up chicken or duck, then add soy sauce, a fried egg, and scallions. She usually throws in some Chinese specialties like 1,000-year-old egg bits, pork floss (a.k.a. rousong, a savory pork cotton candy), or Chinese sausage. If you’re an oatmeal person, try Jeremy Oldfield’s holy trinity of savory oatmeal: tahini, miso, and a tiny bit of honey for balance.

2. Dumplings. “For a quick breakfast I often fry up frozen dumplings from Chinatown,” says Lo, “and I keep a quart of chili sauce/vinegar/soy sauce mixed up in the fridge.”

3. Rice Cakes and More. Leftover rice can morph into many quick breakfast dishes. Try forming it into cakes and topping with lop chong (Chinese dried sausage) or making an easy fried rice with egg and Canadian bacon. Or you can make rice soup out of it, says Joycelyn Lee, owner of B Star Bar and Burma Superstar in San Francisco. She says that ochazuke, a Japanese dish traditionally eaten after a night of hard drinking, also makes a good quick breakfast. Pour green tea or hot broth over rice and add whatever leftovers you’ve got on hand. She likes to put in bits of grilled salmon and some mustard greens, and to poach an egg directly in the hot liquid.

4. Fry Leftovers into Patties. Other things besides rice can be shaped into patties and fried for breakfast. Lo says one of the highlights of a trip she took with some other chefs was making a breakfast out of leftover pasta, beans, and bacon that they fried into cakes and topped with eggs. Try different combos of leftover beans and grains, or check out CHOW’s Black Bean Cakes.

5. Try Cooking Eggs Differently. Dennis Leary, chef/owner of the Sentinel and Canteen in San Francisco, says he serves a lot of egg sandwiches, which are really fast and easy to make if you cook the eggs in a small sheet pan in advance. Whip up eggs with whatever you like (one combo Leary suggests is artichokes, spinach, and pecorino cheese), pour the mixture into a well-greased rimmed baking sheet, bake until it sets, then cut it into squares and plop onto bread (or rice, leftover grains, etc.) with anything else you want for a quick breakfast.

6. Bacon Is Not the Only Breakfast Meat. Really. “There is so much Spanish, Italian, and Chinese salumi out there,” says Lo. “You could switch out bacon for any number of pork products.” Try crisping pancetta, picking up Chinese sausages, or skipping pork altogether by adding fish to your breakfast menu. Leary says he likes to serve smoked haddock with rice, green tomatoes, raisins, cilantro, chile flakes, and a few poached eggs.

7. Hash Things Out. Corned beef and potatoes are the most familiar things you’ll find in hash, but any of your leftover vegetables and/or meats can be finely chopped and cooked together for a breakfast stir-fry. Roasted chicken meat and mixed root vegetables are good, and Lo says she’s made hash with leftover artichokes and shrimp, then thrown an egg on top. Our Red Flannel Hash is a vegetarian option that adds beets to the mix.

8. Eggs Don’t Have to Be Seasoned with Salt and Pepper. Joycelyn Lee says that there are all sorts of good things you can put on your eggs if you want to add some alternative flavors. She suggests soy sauce, furikake (a Japanese condiment made with seaweed), and ponzu sauce.

9. Work in Noodles. Noodle soups are a favorite of Lee’s because they are really easy and fast to pull off in the morning. “Just boil the broth, throw in noodles [and] any leftovers, drop a raw egg in to poach it; it will just cook in the soup … use whatever you ate for dinner and just slice it into your noodles. Any kind of Chinese condiments too are great; you can make some pickles or kimchee and throw that in.” Or try breakfast noodles Italian style: Prune in New York offers spaghetti alla carbonara on its brunch menu for a different way to eat bacon, eggs, and cheese in the morning.

10. Polenta. Like rice, polenta can be incredibly versatile on the breakfast table. Chill leftover polenta in a loaf pan so you can slice it neatly in the morning. Broil with some cheese, then top with sautéed vegetables, meats, or eggs. Or cook it soft and top it with some fresh fruit and cream if you want to go sweet.

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Roxanne Webber is an associate editor at CHOW.
Toaster image source: Flickr member healthserviceglasses under Creative Commons.

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