Monday, 28 May 2007

Kedgeree, or belated Anglophilia

From a gastronomic perspective, I've left England without much of a glance behind me. True, I've imported a few dry goods, including my favourite sea salt, vegetable stock and coffee. And I have the occasional craving for artisanal cheddar or a good jar of marmalade. Yet even on a soggy, solitary evening such as this, it's difficult to conjure up authentic nostalgia for most traditionally British ingredients or dishes. My years in Oxford and London were a period of enormous discovery when it came to food. But the food that I fell in love with, while frequently dependent on local (English) vegetables, fish and meat, was a mix of Mediterranean cuisine and what Elisabeth Luard calls European peasant cookery. I aspired to shop like a French woman, cook with Italian abundance and eat the simple, seasonal food favoured across so much of the Continent.

But for every vociferous claim, there are at least a few exceptions. For me, it may well be kedgeree, an Anglo-Indian classic which has remained largely unchanged since the Victorian period. The dish emerged in the kitchens of the Raj, where a spartan rice and lentil dish, khichri, lost its homely legumes and had a luxury makeover: fish (first fresh, later smoked), curry powder, yellow raisins and a side-dish of mango chutney. Back in Blighty, it transitioned from the breakfast table to the supper one, picking up hard-boiling eggs and, quite frequently, a lashing of cream along the way. After World War II, kedgeree, like the Empire, went out of fashion, though both have enjoyed a somewhat revived reputation of late.

I'm sure one of the reasons kedgeree became evening food is that it goes so well with alcohol. What to drink? Gewurtraminner or Pinot Gris would be my personal picks, cheap fizz and chardonnay also work well. Come to think of it, an English I.P.A. wouldn't be half-bad either.

For culinary history fans, there is a delightful book which traces the evolution of kedgeree and other hybrids of the imperial kitchen. Exactly the kind of thing I wish I had been writing instead of my own doctoral dissertation. (Though I did have a lovely bit about the 1924 Empire Exhibition and the Canadians' life-size butter carving of the Prince of Wales). C'est la vie.

Active time 25 minutes
Total time 45-50 minutes
Serves 2 hungry people
Adapted from one of Jamie Oliver's early cookbooks

250-300 grams undyed smoked haddock (no day-glo yellow stuff)
1 coffee mug basmati rice (between 8 and 10 oz)
1 medium sized onion
1/2 tablespoon medium curry powder, preferably Madras*
1 clove garlic
2 eggs
1 heaping cup frozen peas
handful cilantro (optional)
2 bay leaves (dried are fine)
a few peppercorns
butter or neutral oil
To serve: mango chutney

The following steps can be done in conjunction or separate stages, depending on how much time you have/pans you want to get dirty. Just make sure you have cooked your fish, rice and egg before you proceed to the 2nd half of the recipe.

Before you start, take the peas out of the freezer. In a large, deep-sided frying pan, bring water to a simmer. Add bay, peppercorns and smoked haddock and simmer until the fish flakes easily, about 10 minutes. In the meantime, begin cooking the rice in a separate pot of boiling, salted water. Drain fish and put on plate to cool. Check on the rice; it should take 10-15 minutes. While the rice finishes, clean frying pan and heat enough oil or butter to just coat the bottom. Finely chop onion and add, frying until soft and lightly browned. As these cook, hard-boil 2 eggs by your chosen method. Just before the onions are done, chop and add the clove of garlic.

If the peas are not yet fully defrosted, run some hot water over them for 30 seconds. Return the frying pan with onions to a low heat. Add the curry powder and mix thoroughly to combine. Now add the cooked rice and haddock, flaking it off its skin. Follow with a good squeeze of lemon juice. As the mixture warms, peel and slice the eggs and chop the coriander. Leave aside. Add peas and continue to mix until just warmed through. Test for acidity and salt, then divide onto individual plates and top with egg and coriander. Serve with mango chutney.

*I like the mellow, aromatic Madras blend made by Bolst's, a commercial brand from India. Use whatever is fresh and not too hot; this is really not meant to be a spicy dish.

No comments: