The base is a rich creamy rice with smoked haddock cream and acidulated butter. Charcoal grilled abalone and cured prawns bring charred sweetness while a pickled lemon gel and pickled grapes give bursts of acidity. Leeks cooked in brown butter give the dish another rich dimension which is then finished with coriander stalks that lend brightness and fried saltbush that gives texture. At the table, curried marron oil is poured over the rice to transform it into something easily recognisable as a kedgeree; the marron, curry, chili, kaffir lime and eucalyptus oil blends with the rest of the dish to give spicy depth and aroma.
Kedegeree is a comforting and enduring classic cooked in households to this day. It is said that Queen Victoria herself was especially partial to it. The dish as it is today has deep roots in British tradition starting in the late 1600s but its inception goes back much further still.
According to the Larousse Gastronomique, kedgeree originated from khichiri; a dish of spiced lentils, rice, fried onions and ginger eaten across India from the 14th century onwards. Taking its name from the Sanskrit word khiccā, it is known to have existed in one form or another across South Asia, as far back as the 4th century. Its ingredients likely would have varied with region, season, and religion.
In John Fryer’s A New Account of East-India and Persia, published in 1698, is one of the earliest references to kedgeree in the English language:
‘their delightfullest food being only Cutchery, a sort of pulse and rice mixed together, and boiled in butter…’
Centuries later the British in India developed a taste for it. Both khichiri and fish became staples of the Raj breakfast table and in time, the two were integrated into a single dish. When it travelled back to Britain, via letters and regiments returning home, rice remained its principal element, hard-boiled eggs were added, and pulses were replaced with flaked or smoked fish. Khichiri had found its way onto British tables with a new name: kedgeree.
By the mid-1800s, kedgeree began to feature more regularly in recipe books, and by the end of the century it had become common in British cuisine. It was mostly viewed as a thrifty dish, which could be made either with inexpensive, locally caught fish or, more often, with leftovers.
The recipe Dinner uses as reference is from Modern Cookery in all its Branches by Eliza Acton, published in 1845. Modern Cookery consists of mainly English recipes and contains the first known mention of Christmas pudding (as opposed to plum pudding) and Brussel sprouts, as well as the first use in an English cookbook of the word spaghetti. Acton’s layout for each recipe with the description of the cooking process followed by a list of ingredients and the total cooking time made Modern Cookery stand out from other books of the time wherein recipes were usually not nearly as precise.
‘Boil four ounces of rice tender and dry as for currie, and when it is cooled down put it into a saucepan with nearly an equal quantity of cold fish taken clear of skin and bone, and divided into very small flakes or scallops. Cut up an ounce or two of fresh butter and add it, with a full seasoning of cayenne, and as much salt as may be required. Stir the kedgeree constantly over a clear fire until it is very hot: then mingle quickly with it to slightly beaten eggs. Do not let it boil after these are stirred in; but serve the dish when they are just set. A Mauritian chatney may be sent to table with it. The butter may be omitted, and its place supplied by an additional egg or more. Cold turbot, brill, salmon, soles, John Dory, and shrimps, may all be served in this form. ‘