Food and language are, in my opinion, more susceptible to changes than most other things (and India is probably the prime example when it comes to outside influences on both). Central Asian invaders brought with them the culture of kabobs and we added our spices to them. Sometimes we added gravy to the kabobs to suit our palate. The Portuguese brought a whole new collection of vegetables and we made them our own. They are now so ingrained in our cuisine that half of us don’t even realize that they were not native Indian vegetables. The British Raj left its footprint on quite a few things, some we still cherish while others have taken the backseat. Kedgeree is a delicious example from the latter category. While we still spend hours watching cricket, we hardly cook kedgeree, which was a staple in British kitchens.
Back in the day when refrigeration was almost impossible, leftovers made it to the kitchen the next morning and got converted into something else for breakfast. Every country has recipes to make use of leftovers. The most common way of re-using leftover rice from dinner for Bengalis is to add water to it and let it ferment slightly overnight to make panta bhaat (fermented rice) which is fabulous with deep fried fritters on the side in the hellish heat of a Bengali summer. But the British had a different idea to use either the leftover rice and or fish from last night’s dinner. Kedgeree (which originally got its name from khichdi or khichuri) is far from the rice-and-lentils original eaten almost all over India. Although Indians prefer their khichdis to be vegetarian, the Bangladeshis spice it up with meat. But the British decided to give it a completely different twist. They omitted the lentils, added fish instead and anglicized the name to kedgeree. I’m not going to take a puritanical stand here – I have happily embraced the British take on khichdi, because it’s delicious.
During one of our recent long drives, Dr. Sen and I had a long and extremely heated discussion about ‘authenticity.’ Until recently, I was more rigid when it came to food (or anything else under the sky) or cooking anything Bengali or even Indian. I followed recipes so militantly to the point that I brought a grinding stone from India to make my dishes taste as my mother’s. I’m still very proud of my decision. But like many of my viewpoints toward life, this has changed too and that too quite unknowingly. I started experimenting more but am still cautious not to let things go too far from what I knew was “authentic”. Gradually I pushed my boundaries and added this and taken out that, with more confidence. Although I’m still far from being an experimental cook like Dr. Sen, I’m more accepting to changes and variations. My kedgeree is no way authentic and is loosely based on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. Tell you what – since he’s a British chef, that alone probably makes my recipe authentic. There is a little difference, though – unlike the old days, my kedgeree was not made to use the leftovers, it was made to recreate a bit of history. I just love doing things like this.
Cooked basmati rice: 3 cups (I went with my judgement and might have added a little more or less. You can play around with the quantity. The recipe is very flexible and you can change the proportion of any of the ingredients)
Curry powder (brand may vary): 1-2 tbsp. (will greatly depend on the brand. You’ll need less of it if the powder is strong. Start with less and then add later if you want more flavor)
Onion, finely chopped: 1 cup
Boiled eggs: 5
Chopped green chili: per taste
Ginger, fresh, finely chopped: 1 tbsp.
Cod fillet (or any white-flaky fish): 1lb
Oil: 2-3 tbsp.
Cilantro: 1/2 cup
Lemon: half/one whole, depending on the size and how tart you want your kedgeree to be
Salt to taste
- Start by boiling enough water to cook the rice. When the water has boiled, add salt to it and then add the rice. Add generous amount of salt because the rice will swell and absorb a lot of salt. I usually don’t soak the rice for a long time because they tend to break. You can soak the rice if it works for you.
- Once the rice is cooked (but still has a bite), drain the water and spread the rice to let the steam escape. Fluff the rice periodically to avoid overcooking it. I usually cook the rice the day before and refrigerate it to make my life easy while cooking the kedgeree. A day old rice also holds up better and doesn’t break easily while cooking.
- Cut the fish fillet into 3-4-inch-long pieces and season with salt and pepper. Keep them aside for several minutes.
- In a large enough pot (don’t skimp on the container size because you don’t want to cramp everything there), add the oil and heat it up.
- Add the fish and cook it through. Don’t overcook the fish as it will get chewy. Once cooked, remove them from oil and keep them warm (if possible, wrap them in a foil).
- Add a little bit more oil to the pot if needed.
- Add the chopped onions to the oil and sauté them until translucent on medium-high heat.
- Add the curry powder and a little bit of water to avoid burning the spices. Lower the heat as you sauté the spices.
- Slice the eggs in four (lengthwise) and keep them aside.
- Add the cooked rice to the pot and gently toss and turn to evenly mix the spices with the rice. If you want it to look speckled, don’t mix it thoroughly. Check for salt. Add more if needed.
- Roughly break the fish with your hand into smaller pieces and add them to the rice. Add the eggs too. Gently fluff everything without mushing the rice.
- Add the finely chopped cilantro and chopped green chilies and sprinkle a generous amount of lemon juice on it. Cover the pot with a lid and very gently shake it to make everything mix evenly.
- Before serving, crack some freshly ground black peppers on it.