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Kedgeree is a dish of rice, smoked haddock, spice, and eggs, and it is one of those dishes whose etymology is surrounded by uncertainty, myth, and legend. Is it Scottish? Is it English? Indian, even? Did it come from British India, or does it predate even that period of history? One thing for sure is that it’s impossible to be certain. I have heard many differing accounts, the most popular being that it is a westernized variation of khitchiri, a dish of rice and lentils from the Indian subcontinent, which is widely regarded as a cure for all ills. There is a romanticized notion that “kedgeree” was brought back to Scotland by a regiment serving in the Raj.
Today, Scotland harbors a love of spice, largely due to the migration of Indians and Pakistanis in the postwar years. I've heard many anecdotes about the seven-nights-a-week queues outside Indian restaurants during the 1950s, and Asif Ali of Glasgow’s Shish Mahal is credited with the "invention" of chicken tikka masala in the 1970s; rumor is that he added a tin of tomato soup to a dish that had been sent back for being "too dry." These days, while Glasgow has largely been usurped in recent years in the battle for UK curry capital by Bradford, South Asian food is still the most ordered takeaway in Scotland’s largest city, and the Scottish affiliation with spice is as strong as ever. It’s possible that it all started with kedgeree.
The first documented recipe for kedgeree comes from 1790, when Stephana Malcolm from Dumfriesshire, near the Scottish border with England, wrote of a dish featuring minced haddock and minced boiled eggs added to cooked rice. However, cayenne pepper was the only spice, and it's not one usually associated with the Indian subcontinent. There is some evidence, though, that curry powder was finding its way into the kitchens of Edinburgh's wealthiest at that time. By the time kedgeree found its fame as a Victorian breakfast, Scottish smoked haddock had largely taken the place of unsmoked fish, curry powder had become the spice of choice, and hard boiled eggs were augmented with parsley, lemon, crispy onions, and a few South Asian garnishes. And while Scotland still lays some claim to ownership, kedgeree appears to be truly a fusion of different cultures and cuisines.
Growing up, kedgeree was a fairly staple dish for me, with smoked haddock in plentiful supply and curry powder always in the cupboard. It was essentially my introduction to South Asian flavors. As my understanding of spice has improved, I’ve moved away from generic curry powder to develop a blend that enhances the flavor of the fish while maintaining the essential pungency of fenugreek and chile. While it could be enjoyed as a very hearty breakfast alongside a mug of coffee, there are no rules against eating it for lunch or dinner, in any season. The beauty of kedgeree is in its simplicity, as while it is a multi-stage cooking process, it is more or less a one-pot dish which can be put together very quickly at the end of the working day, especially if you make enough of the spice blend keep it in your pantry.
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon ajwain (carom seeds)
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (methi) seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chillies
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 fillet smoked haddock (preferably peat-smoked)*
- 1 bay leaf
- 350 milliliters (about 1 1/2 cups) cold water
- 1 onion (finely chopped)
- 2-3 tablespoons (a knob of) butter
- 150 grams (2/3 cup) basmati rice
- 2.5 teaspoons spice blend*
- 2 eggs
- Salt to season and poach eggs
Have you eaten or cooked kedgeree before? Tell us about it in the comments!