Inspired by Steve Spence [the law of averages said that it had to happen eventually], I want kedgeree.
I like kedgeree. Originating in India, this dish has been truly adopted into British cuisine and we should be proud. Our food might be mocked, sometimes unfairly, elsewhere but this is a great dish and so flexible. The tradition is that it is a breakfast dish and it is a magnificent one at that. Unfortunately I simply can’t be bothered to make a breakfast so complicated without real preparation, getting myself psyched up and some form of incentive, like an accompanying glass of champagne. So I don’t. I make it for tea. This is proper tea. The meal southerners might call “dinner”. Of course, you can still have champagne.
Kedgeree is based on an Indian dish called “khichari”, described by the great Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta in 1340. The dish is a simple one but worth noting anyway. It is essentially a dish of rice and moong dal and spiced with bay leaves, aniseed and ginger.
There is a much maligned, and probably rightly so, theory that suggests that the dish was originally a Scots dish that was taken to India in colonial times, Indianised and then reimported back into the UK. However, this theory only goes back as far as the Malcolm clan’s recipes of the late 1700’s, a mere 350 years after Ibn Battuta’s recipe.
The original recipe is the basis of many day to day meals across the Indian sub-continent and can also be found across the Middle East and North-East Africa and is fantastically healthy. It is also fantastically flexible. This recipe is from the folk at the Australian branch of ISKON [known better as the Hare Krishna movement]. As they say, you can live off this meal, and millions do.
Khichari (pronounced ‘kitch-eri’) is such an important dish for vegetarians that I have included a different recipe for it in each of my cookbooks. The flavoursome, juicy stew of mung beans, rice and vegetables is both nutritious and sustaining. It can be served any time a one-pot meal is required. You can practically live on khichari, and in fact some people do. I eat it accompanied by a little yogurt, some whole-wheat toast, lemon or lime wedges and topped with a drizzle of melted ghee. Bliss! Serves: 4 – 6 persons.
½ cup split mung beans, washed and drained
6 cups water
1 bay leaf
thumb-size chunk ginger, chopped fine
1 small green chili, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 cup Thai rice, or other long-grain rice of your choice
1 packed cup each broccoli, potato cubes and quartered Brussels sprouts, or vegetables of your choice
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons ghee
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
small handful curry leaves
½ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder
½ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
wedges of lemon, some chilled yogurt, and extra ghee for serving
Bring to a boil the mung beans, water, bay leaf, ginger, chili, turmeric and coriander in a saucepan, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, for about 15 minutes or until the beans start to break up.
Add the rice, vegetables, tomatoes and salt, increase the heat, and stirring, bring to a boil, then return to a simmer, covered. Stirring occasionally, cook for another 10–15 minutes, or until the rice is soft.
Season: Heat the ghee in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds, fry until a few shades darker, and add the curry leaves—careful, they crackle. Sprinkle in the yellow asafetida powder, swirl the pan and empty the fried seasonings into the khichari. Stir the seasonings through, then return to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes or so, or until the rice is fully swollen and soft. If you desire a moist khichari, add a little boiling water now.
Serve: Fold in the fresh coriander, and serve the khichari piping hot with a drizzle of warm ghee, and the accompaniments suggested above.
It is a great dish, but it’s not kedgeree. Well, not British kedgeree. So now I start looking to my colonial resources. Or at least cook books written by people living at that time.
A polo team fuelled entirely by kedgeree
Here’s Eliza Acton’s version. Allegedly it’s one of the first to include eggs. Anyway, that’s not bad at all, although it relies entirely on cayenne as the spice.
This version is from The Skilful Cook: A Practical Manual of Modern Experience by Mary Harrison from 1905. This recipe really does suggest the left over nature of the dish. Suddenly the breakfast option is starting to look more positive. This version is magnificently mild and bland. Perfect breakfast stuff, especially served with hot toast.
Ingredients—The remains of cooked fish.
An equal quantity of boiled rice.
2 hard-boiled eggs.
A little butter.
Pepper and salt.
Method.—Break the fish into flakes, removing all the bones.
Melt a little butter in a saucepan.
Put in the rice, fish, and the whites of the eggs cut small, pepper and salt.
Stir over the fire until quite hot.
Heap it on a hot dish in the form of a pyramid, and sprinkle over it the yolks of the eggs, rubbed through a wire sieve.
And then I come to the most basic recipe yet. This is from Joe Tilden’s Recipes for Epicures, published in 1907. According to the introduction, “Major Joseph Tilden was in his time one of the most famous Bohemians and epicureans of the Pacific Coast.” I dread to imagine the diet of the conservatives of that time if this is at the more radical end of the scale.
Boil two tablespoonfuls of rice and drain it as dry as possible. Have ready a cupful of cooked fish of any sort broken into pieces. Mix it thoroughly with the rice and heat over the fire; season with salt and pepper. Beat an egg lightly and stir into it. Serve at once.
Now we come back to a marvellous cook book of the colonial age; The Khaki Kook Book by Mary Kennedy Core. Mary was a missionary with pity in her heart for the Godless Hindu. Of course, Hindus aren’t really godless. They have millions of the things. Or maybe they just have one. Who knows? Anyway, Mary’s recipe, Crisco aside, is not bad. It could just do with some seasoning and some spices but, include those, and you’ve got a decent lunch. Exclude them and you have one of the most insipid meals imaginable. At least Joe gave us salt and pepper.
First soak a cup of split peas for about three hours. Then put them on to stew with two whole onions. When about half done add a cup of rice. The water must be about two inches above the split peas and rice. Cook until rice and peas are soft and the water is absorbed. Pour over all some melted butter or crisco. Usually kidgeri is served with poached eggs. Sometimes eggs are hard-boiled and sliced over the kidgeri after it is dished.
[Crisco is an American vegetable based shortening. Every day’s a school day.]
The kedgeree inspired rush hour begins
Elizabeth Ayrton, in the Penguin book “The Cookery of England”, gives another version, that looks like an excellent breakfast dish, although I would prefer more of kick. Or any kick. Mind, what she lacks in spice she makes up for in butter. The instructions are paraphrased by me.
180g cooked long grain rice
about the same of cooked, smoked haddock, skinned and flaked
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley or chopped parsley and chives
A little salt and plenty of ground black pepper#
2-3 tablespoons of butter
Mix up your fish, rice, eggs and seasoning, melt some butter in a pan, add the rice mix and warm through. Serve piled on a plate, dot with butter and serve with warm toast.
Jane Grigson offers this version in her book “English Food”, and this is probably as close as you’re going to get to a classic British kedgeree. This one has prawns in though, which is a nice touch, I think.
500g (1lb) smoked haddock
1 large onion, chopped
175g (6 oz) long grain rice
1 tsp curry paste
3 hard-boiled eggs
12 or more prawns
Salt and pepper
Pour boiling water over the haddock and set over a low heat for 10 minutes. It should not boil. Take the haddock from the water, discard the skin and bones, and flake the fish.
Meanwhile put a thin layer of olive oil into a pan and brown the onion lightly.
Stir in the rice, and as it becomes transparent mix in the curry paste.
Pour 600ml (1pt) of the haddock water over the rice, and cook steadily until the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed. Watch the pan, and add more water if necessary.
Mix in the flaked haddock pieces and a large bit of butter, so that the kedgeree is moist and juicy.
Turn into a hot serving dish. Arrange the egg slices and prawns on top, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with lemon quarters and mango chutney.
And here’s the Guardian’s take on the perfect kedgeree, from Felicity Cloake.
And you know what, that’s not a bad effort. [n.b. this is wilful understatement]
450g basmati rice
500g smoked haddock
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and cut into thin rings
2 crushed cardamom pods
1 tbsp curry powder
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half
Small handful chives, chopped
½ lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Small bunch of coriander, chopped
1. Toss the rice briefly under running water and then put it in a large pan and cover with cold water. Leave for at least half an hour.
2. Drain the rice and discard the soaking water. Put it in a large pan on a medium heat with 585ml [a pint] fresh water.
3. Bring to the boil, and give it a good stir. Cover tightly and turn the heat down very low. Cook for 25 minutes then take off the heat – don’t take the lid off! – and place [pan] on a wet tea towel. Leave for five minutes then fork through to fluff up.
4. Meanwhile, put the fish, skin-side up, in a shallow pan over a low heat, and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then take out of the water and, when cool enough to handle, pull the skin off and break into large flakes.
5. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a lowish heat, and add the onion. Fry gently until softened, then stir in the chilli, cardamom pods and curry powder. Cook for a couple of minutes, then tip in the rice and stir to coat. Add the fish flakes and heat through. Taste and season.
6. Put the eggs on top, scatter with chives and coriander, and serve with slices of lemon to squeeze over.
So what did I do?
I hate white fish. With a passion. My brother describes the flavour as delicate. I say tasteless. Devoid of redeeming features. I want something with taste and power to take on the spices. I always go for smoked mackerel, skinned, boned and broken into decent sized pieces, maybe an inch long.
And in a tip of the hat to the dishes Indian roots, I also cook some lentils up with the rice.
While the lentils and the rice are cooking, I fry some finely chopped onion and maybe a chilli pepper, before adding either curry powder or paste, according to how I’m feeling, letting tic ok through. Now I add the cooked and drained lentils and rice and stir it round. Add some double cream and some butter and some chopped parsley or coriander. Add the fish last and stir it gently into the mix and stick it in the oven at around 200C for 20 minutes. Just before you serve, boil some eggs, one per person, to your preferred degree of hardness. I suggest going for four or five minutes and then, after serving up the rice onto each person’s plate, breaking each egg over the kedgeree, so that yolk can run into the creamy spicy rice, but hard boiled works brilliantly too.
Mango chutney? I have to confess to being a little ambivalent about it with this dish. Serve it anyway and people can make their own minds up.
Maybe something French next time…