How does the saying go? ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’ Well, if you’re looking for the highest possible status of breakfast, then kedgeree is the dish for you. Bran flakes just don’t quite scratch the same itch. Kedgeree cannot be casual; it requires time, both for preparation and enjoying, and it makes breakfast an occasion. It came to our breakfast tables (or mahogany sideboards) in Victorian times, brought back to Britain by returning colonial officers. It was served in silver chafing dishes, set alongside steaming urns of porridge.
Kedgeree is a rice-based dish, flavoured with curried spices and cooked with smoked haddock, onions and boiled eggs. There are a host of other ingredients or accoutrements that can be served in or with it — peas, lime pickle, any herb you can think of — but these are the essentials. It started life as a dish of rice and lentils boiled together, called khichari by Ibn Battuta, the legendary Moroccan scholar and traveller, as far back as 1340. A simple peasant meal, it was adopted by the Mughal royal kitchen as a fasting dish. In the 1600s the French traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier came to India and observed Indian soldiers dipping their fingers in clarified butter before eating the dish with their hands.
Alongside mulligatawny and mango chutney, it was one of the Anglo-Indian dishes the British adapted or invented following their time in India in a fit of nostalgia and excitement at the new flavours they had encountered. These dishes weren’t quite the same as in India, but authenticity wasn’t a major concern. They quickly became a staple of British household menus.
Victorian kedgeree was rich, with butter stirred into the dish and cream added. Fish was added to the dish in India, but it was the British who codified that fish as smoked haddock and confined the lentils to history. It was a breakfast dish for practical reasons: in the Indian heat, fresh fish caught that morning would be past its best later in the day.
I tend to break with tradition and serve kedgeree for supper. Thanks to refrigeration, we can enjoy it at any time of day. And while the dish supposedly has excellent hangover-relieving properties — spice to wake you up, fish oils that reduce inflammation and rice to soak up the alcohol — it can ask a lot of a cook who is perhaps feeling the effects of the night before to poach smoked fish before they’ve even had a cup of coffee.
Hard-boiled eggs and fried onions were the favoured garnishes for kedgeree when it was brought back to Britain, which I’ve remained true to in my recipe; but I’ve given the desiccated coconut and crispy bacon garnishes a miss. I have enjoyed many a kedgeree seasoned with curry powder, and don’t look down my nose at it for one moment, but I’ve plumped for individual toasted spices here. The freshness and complexity of flavour that comes from toasting cardamom, turmeric and mustard and cumin seeds can’t be beaten. Adding saffron to the rice turns the dish a delightful primrose yellow, but more importantly gives a fantastic smokey floral aroma.
This dish can tend towards the soft if you’re not careful, so the peas, mustard seeds and crunchy onions are there to add texture as well as colour and flavour. For coriander deniers, you can garnish with shredded parsley. It’s a handsome dish: the golden yolks and garden peas bright and vibrant against the pale yellow rice and milky-coloured flaked haddock. It may not be an everyday breakfast any more, but it remains a celebratory, delightful dish whether you serve it morning, noon or night. Season judiciously, tasting as you go, as the smoked haddock is naturally salty, and using its cooking liquor for the rice will go a long way to seasoning the dish for you.
1. Place rice in a large bowl, cover with cold water, agitate with your hand and leave to soak for half an hour.
2. Boil 500ml of water in a kettle. Place the haddock in a shallow pan, cover with the water, add the bay leaves, place a tight fitting lid over the top and cook over a low heat for 8 minutes. Drain, reserve the cooking water and set the fish to one side to cool.
3. Add a pinch of saffron to the cooking water and leave to sit for five minutes. Place the rice in a medium-sized saucepan, pour the cooking water over the top, place a tight fitting lid on the pan and cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Then turn off the heat, remove the lid, and leave to steam.
4. Meanwhile, crush the cardamom pods to release their seeds and discard the pods. Toast the tumeric, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and cardamom seeds in a medium-hot pan until they begin to crackle and jump. Turn the heat down and add the butter, stirring until it melts. Add the diced onion to the pan and stir so it is covered in the spiced butter. Cook over a low heat until soft. Add the peas, stir, turn off the heat.
5. Place the oil in the smallest pan you have over a high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook until it browns, stirring gently to make sure it doesn’t burn. Drain on kitchen paper.
6. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the four eggs. Cook at a simmer for 7 minutes (no more), then run the eggs under cold water, and peel them.
7. Mix the rice through the buttery onions and peas, making sure it gets a nice coating of the spices, add the cream and stir through. Flake the fish into the rice, and squeeze the lemon half over the mixture. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.
8. Divide the kedgeree between four dishes and top with the coriander or parsley leaves and the crunchy browned onions. Halve the eggs lengthways to show off their yolks, and carefully place two halves on top of each dish.
WHAT YOU NEED
Makes: enough for 4 people
Takes: 30 minutes, plus soaking time
300g Basmati rice
350g undyed smoked haddock
2 bay leaves
Pinch of saffron
8 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 1/2 small onions, diced
75g frozen peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, sliced
60ml double cream
A handful of coriander or parsley