“At the thought of a kedgeree made with smoked haddock and plenty of hard-boiled eggs,” writes Elizabeth David in Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, “English eyes grow dreamy and the smell of an English country house dining room at breakfast time… comes back to tease and tantalise.”
File this one under fusion gone horribly right. Like curry, mulligatawny, Worcester sauce and a slew of other English foods, kedgeree was born of England’s colonisation of India. Traditionally a breakfast dish, it equally satisfies the Victorian love of fish (and smoked fish) and eggs for breakfast and the Bombay breakfaster’s need for a solid and tasty meal that combines carbs and protein in a way that sets one up for a day’s labour. The Hindi dish khichri, kedgeree’s precursor, is recorded recognisably in references dating back to the 14th century, according to The Oxford Companion to Food: “Hobson-Jobson quotes the Arab trader Ibn Batuta (1340): ‘the munj [mung beans or lentils] is boiled with rice, then buttered and eaten.’”
The introduction of flaked or smoked fish is thought to have been a British take on the originally vegetarian dish, and when the dish left the subcontinent it also seems to have lost its leguminous component, the fish becoming the sole protein.
It’s rarely seen at breakfast nowadays – brunch at a pinch – and more often graces lunch or even supper spreads. Variations stretch from those that embrace the dish’s subcontinental origins and include rich (and sometimes hot) spicing, reinstate the legumes, and garnish with coriander, chilli and fried onion, to the more genteel, English-country-garden versions, which tend to swap chives, cress or parsley for coriander, play down the curry flavours, keeping spicing to mace and bay, and play up the butter and hard-boiled eggs. Richer versions, too, include the addition of cream or, as we have in this recipe, the milk used to poach the smoked fish.It’s worth noting that in presenting their take on kedgeree on TV’s Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright and the late Jennifer Paterson – kedgeree lovers of the first order – maintained that the apocryphal Colonel’s maid who brought the dish back to England sans lentils struck a winning blow against vegetarians in doing so: “Hurrah! Get rid of all lentils,” said Dickson Wright. “You’ve no idea how randy they make vegetarians.”