Jersey Breakfast: Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese

Sunday, October 26, 2014

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When we were living in NYC, there was a bagel shop around the corner. The kind of bagel shop that every morning a line would form outside the door, sunshine, rain, or snow. The kind of bagel shop that when I went there for the first time and asked for a toasted bagel, the owner laughed at me, but then said "okay, it's your call." (They were made on the spot and were warm when served so no toasting was needed, just a schmear of lox spread). I never asked for toasted again.

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Having moved to Jersey and having seen a bagel shop in almost every town, I was of course skeptical. There is one in our town, and although their bagels are improved by being toasted, they're as close to a New York bagel as you're going to get (not being in New York). So we began spending a lot of our weekend time at that bagel shop. One of my favorite pastimes is observing people. And living in a small town and going to the same bagel shop every weekend is quite different from seeing a parade of anonymous strangers at a cafe in NYC. You get to know the locals. You get a feel for people's habits.

And after going to the same bagel shop for quite some time, I kept hearing the same order from people in front of me, people behind me, from the short order cook shouting out when an order is ready: Taylor egg and cheese on a bagel. Taylor egg and swiss on a roll. Taylor egg no cheese on rye.

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After hearing this in the background so many times, I finally started to wonder. What on earth is a Taylor egg? And why are so many people ordering it?

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Then we researched it. It turns out Taylor refers to Taylor pork roll which has been made in Trenton, NJ since the 1800's (and still counting). Because of some legal nuances it is prohibited to call it "ham" directly, as ham apparently has a very specific legal definition but, perhaps in defiance, everyone in New Jersey calls it "Taylor ham." Or just Taylor as in "Taylor, egg, and cheese."

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It appears to be a Jersey specialty as I've never seen it on the menu anywhere else (and for that reason it is also known as the "Jersey Breakfast"). I'm not usually keen on breakfast sandwiches since I don't like eating meat for breakfast and I was overall skeptical. But yet again, following the When in Rome mentality, we finally caved in and ordered it.

Well, friends, all those people ordering it clearly knew something I didn't. This sandwich is good. Really good. Like put you in a food coma afterwards kind of good.

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We bought some at a store (even our local supermarket sells it) and made it at home. The proper way to make your Taylor ham is by making three incisions around each slice (to prevent it from forming a dome when frying) then frying it until fairly crisp, and then slapping it on a sandwich topped with egg and some kind of cheese (commonly yellow cheese, but it's really good with Swiss). The closest thing to it would probably be Canadian bacon, which could be used as a substitute.

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I get obsessive over food photography, as a result, we've had this in the afternoon on a Sunday along with local New Jersey beer appropriately named "Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale." (Not sponsored - I simply found the name amusing and fitting).

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Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese on a Roll
Serves 2

You will need:
1 package Taylor Ham (or Canadian Bacon)
2 eggs
2 slices of Swiss cheese (or your choice)
Kaiser rolls
Hot sauce of your choice (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Fry the eggs up over-medium. Make three incisions in each ham slice. In a non-stick pan, fry the ham, flipping several times until it is golden brown and edges are lightly crisp (about 3-4 minutes per side total). Toast the Kaiser rolls. Place ham on the bottom, top with egg and a slice of cheese. Place the sandwich in the oven on a baking sheet for 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Remove, add a splash of hot sauce (optional) and enjoy!

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