KEDGEREE UPDATE: I made this again at the weekend, and tweaked a few aspects of the method, the most important of which was to soak the rice for 30 minutes before cooking. This reduces the cooking time, and also diminishes the risk of the rice mix sticking to the bottom of the pan. I also only added half the milk at the start of cooking the rice, and then added more as required, rather than letting the rice sit in a milky soup which can result in overcooked stodge.

This, to me, is peak comfort food – smoked fish and spicy rice topped with a just-cooked boiled egg. But it’s important to get the seasoning right, so be brave with the spices and you will be rewarded.

A bowl of spiced rice and fish with a sliced egg on top

Originally a Bengal staple dish of spiced rice and lentils served with fried fish (Khicharhi), smoked fish and boiled eggs were added by Colonial cooks in the kitchens of the British empire to make it a favourite at the breakfast table. It has over the years become a mild and uninteresting blend of soggy rice, fish and egg, served on brunch menus everywhere.

I was determined to spice it up and make it pop, and I looked at quite a few recipes before assembling my ingredients, happy that the lockdown larder had pretty much everything required including beautiful smoked haddock from Bournes Fish at Highbury Barn.

Mild curry powder is supposedly a prerequisite for kedgeree, but is where I think I triumphed, because we only had Madras curry powder on hand, and this extra heat really ramped up the flavours from good to great. I usually make up my own pastes as needed, so don’t keep premade curry powders but this had somehow got through the net.

On the advice of Felicity Cloake in The Guardian, who also investigated many kedgeree recipes to arrive at her favourite, I chopped an onion and green chilli, and softened them in LOTS of butter, before adding turmeric and curry powder. She adds cardamom pods, which I didn’t have, but I did consider mustard seeds.

Some recipes suggest that you poach the fish in water and cook off the long-grain rice separately to keep it fluffy and light. My memory of childhood kedgerees was of cooking the fish in milk and using the strained milk to cook the rice.

I went back to the venerable Readers’ Digest Cookery Year book from 1977, inherited from my great uncle Bill and still my most treasured anthology, which has the original recipe containing lentils, onion, boiled rice, fresh limes, butter and fish but adds nutmeg and cayenne pepper as well as single cream and butter, and combines everything in an oven-proof dish to bake for 30 minutes.

So all in all, my recipe is a hybrid of a hybrid and damn tasty it is too! I hope you enjoy it.

Kedgeree

Serves 2 generously

400g undyed smoked haddock

350ml whole milk

2-3 bay leaves

10 black peppercorns

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 green chilli, deseeded if you’re worried about the heat, and finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon Madras curry powder (or mild if you’re a sissy)

2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds (optional)

50g cooked brown lentils (optional)

2tbsp (30g) butter

100g long-grain rice, eg Basmati, soaked in lots of cold water for 30 minutes, then drained and rinsed

2 medium free-range eggs

Lemon wedges and fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method 

Place the fish in a saucepan with the bay leaves and peppercorns and cover with milk.

Place on a medium heat, and as soon as the liquid comes up to the boil, turn it down to low and give it 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Strain the liquid into a jug and carefully flake the fish making sure you remove any skin or bones. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, preferably one with a lid, melt the butter and fry the onion over medium heat, stirring, until soft and starting to colour. This will take 8-10 minutes.
Add the mustard seeds (if using), chopped chilli, turmeric and curry powder and stir. Then add the rice and cooked lentils (if using) and stir to coat. Add half the reserved milk, stir and cover the pan, then keep adding more milk a little at a time, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked. You may not need all of the milk, or you may need to add a little water.

While the rice is cooking, boil the eggs – drop them into boiling water and simmer for 6 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold running water. Peel and set aside, ready to cut in half just before serving.

Once the rice is cooked, check the seasoning (it will need salt and a generous grind of black pepper), turn off the heat, add the flaked fish, herbs and cut eggs on top, cover and leave it to rest  for 5 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, give the fish and rice mix a good stir to combine, spoon on to plates and top each serving with the boiled eggs, chopped coriander and a lemon wedge.

Addendum

I had, while quick-pickling some shaved fennel and onion (delicious on cheese sarnies), come across a recipe from Grace Berrow on Instagram

for confit lemons. As there were two staring out from the fruit bowl, I quickly sliced them and, as instructed, submerged them in olive oil in a saucepan over low heat with a pinch of chilli flakes, some fennel seeds, a sprig of fresh thyme and some sage leaves, and a sprinkle of sea salt. I left them to bubble very gently until the lemons were soft and melting, and popped them in a jar in the fridge. This oil is insanely good for dressings and drizzling over fish or chicken, and the chopped lemon adds a zingy citrus note to soups, stews and casseroles, salads (for example chickpea or couscous), and chopped some finely to put on the table as a condiment. It was a great addition to the kedgeree and many other meals since.