TOAST Magazine

Kedgeree

FOOD & DRINK

Orlando Gough.

We’ve just been to the Edinburgh Festival for a few days, mainly to see our son Milo’s unmissable groundbreaking hilarious genre-bending etc. etc. play Morag and Keats. (Actually it was hilarious.)

We also saw the unmissable groundbreaking etc. etc. adaptation by Jack Thorne of Alexander Masters’ book Stuart: A Life Backwards. Masters is a middle-class bleeding-heart leftie who is working for a homeless charity when he meets Stuart Shorter, a chaotic, violent, flirtatious, brilliant, disabled working-class homeless man (a stunning performance by Fraser Ayres). Alex decides to write Stuart’s biography. The play is, amongst other things, a wonderful dissection of class, and in particular of middle-class guilt. I squirmed in my seat with recognition, as I’ve worked on several pieces with the company Streetwise Opera who make operas with homeless people; five minutes before the start of my very first rehearsal with the company, I found myself up against a wall with Rob, an alarming ex-squaddie, shouting at me ‘If you do this fucking piece I’m going to fucking kill you.’

At one moment Stuart says ‘I wanted to have a fish breakfast this morning’ and Alexander says ‘You mean kedgeree?’ and Stuart says ‘What the fuck is kedgeree?’ The word kedgeree becomes a weapon in the ongoing class war between them. At the end of the play, Stuart furious with Alexander, delivers the worst insult he can think of. ‘You…..kedgeree cunt’ he shouts.

What the fuck is kedgeree? Allegedly it’s derived from the Indian dish khichri, a mixture of lentils and rice cooked with spices. A key ingredient of kedgeree is rice, yes, but otherwise…… The other key ingredients are smoked haddock and eggs. Surely even those ingenious homesick Brits can’t have managed to ship smoked haddock out to India? Perhaps it was made originally with unsmoked fish, and then evolved later when they stumbled back to Blighty.

With marvelous irony, considering its humble origins, kedgeree became a staple of the English country house breakfast. You could put it down as a classic case of cultural appropriation, were it not for the fact that it’s more or less unrecognisable from the original. I prefer to think of it as a glorious hybrid, like the Shree Muktajeevan Pipe and Dohl Band (check them out!).

Let’s face it, we’re unlikely these days to be eating kedgeree for breakfast, any more than we might be eating devilled kidneys or drinking claret. (‘A bachelor who serves champagne for breakfast,’ says the Victorian manual Party Giving on Every Scale, ‘shows that he does not know a good claret.’) But it’s very good as a lunch or supper dish.

Here are two simple kedgeree recipes (serving four). The first is essentially the one my mother used to make, White Kedgeree one might call it, its relationship to India reduced to the use of Basmati rice. Eliza Acton (1859) gives a version of this recipe with unsmoked fish, but it’s not nearly as good.

200g Basmati rice

500g smoked haddock fillet

80g butter

2 hard-boiled eggs, mashed

2 raw eggs, beaten

3 tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

Put the rice in a saucepan with 300ml water. Bring to the boil, cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat, using a heat diffuser, for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes. The rice should have absorbed all the water.

Meanwhile, cover the smoked haddock with water, bring to the boil and poach it gently for 10 minutes. Drain it, skin it, flake it. Melt half the butter in a frying pan, add the haddock and the rice, and stir together until really hot. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the hard-boiled eggs, the raw eggs, the rest of the butter and the parsley. Season generously with salt and pepper, and turn out on to a warmed serving dish.

Try serving this with a green salad into which you have cut up a few slices of fried streaky bacon.

If that seems a little bland, try this recipe, substantially from Elizabeth David’s groundbreaking, unmissable (really!) Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. This version contains onions and spices, connecting it back to khichri.

500g smoked haddock fillet

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tsp curry powder (or better, a freshly made ground mixture of 3 parts cardamon, 3 parts cinnamon, 1 part cumin, 1 part cloves)

200g Basmati rice

50g raisins

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

3 tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

Pour boiling water over the smoked haddock, leave for a couple of minutes. Drain it, skin it, flake it (as far as possible).

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion. Fry gently for ten minutes. Stir in the spices, the rice and the raisins. Add 600ml water and cook steadily for 10 minutes. Add the haddock, and cook for another 10 minutes until the water is absorbed. Fluff up with a fork, mix in the hard-boiled eggs and the parsley, and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

And then there is the more complex Dry Kedgeree from Simon Hopkinson’s The Prawn Cocktail Years. It’s one of my favourite recipes. I’m not going to give it here – you’ll have to buy the book. It’s a must for anyone who can remember the sixties (because they weren’t there), or can’t (because they were), or can’t (because they weren’t) etc. etc.

We’ve published a book of Orlando’s recipes full of similar tales. For more about Orlando Gough Recipe Journal click here.

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