Watching the Downton Abbey television saga again from the beginning, I re-discover an old Anglo-Indian breakfast dish, kedgeree, and savour coddled eggs.
Kedgeree was the dish served by Mrs. Patmore for his Lordship’s breakfast, on Series 1, Episode 1. This was before we knew who any one was and before we knew what a phenomenon the show would become. In an orgy of viewing, I’ve been watching the shows again from the beginning on Netflix. I’d forgotten the first actor to appear on screen is Mr. Bates, sitting on the train on his way to his new job as Lord Grantham’s valet. We had the pleasure of meeting the actor Brendan Coyle, for a convivial evening in the rooftop bar at Toronto’s Park Hyatt Hotel, while he was in the city appearing on an episode of the TV series Murdoch Mysteries.
In 1897, writes James Trager in The Food Chronology, the Brits began to enjoy luncheon, dooming the classic full English breakfast, which included “kippers (smoked herring), finan haddie (smoked haddock), kedgeree, roast beef, kidneys, bacon, sausages, porridge, scones, cold toast, butter, marmalade, treacle, eggs and tea with milk.”
According to Larousse, the original Indian dish, known as kadgeri, dates back to about 1340 and consisted of rice garnished with onions, lentils and eggs. Fish was added by the colonial Brits, then occupying India. The fish was usually smoked haddock, but may be salmon (Nigella Lawson has a good recipe using salmon).
The dish was brought back to the United Kingdom in Victorian times by returning British colonials and introduced as a breakfast dish, part of then fashionable Anglo-Indian cuisine. Scottish regiments may have brought it back from the sub-continent earlier, as it is listed in the 1790 recipe book of Stephana Malcolm of Burnfoot, Dumfriesshire, notes The National Trust for Scotland’s book The Scottish Kitchen by Christopher Trotter.
Whatever its origins, it’s a tasty dish to set before his Lordship or your humble family, on a cold winter’s day. In my photo the Indian theme is carried through in the toile/paisley table cloth where elephants and tigers are in evidence. The silver spoon belonged to my great-great grandfather, a Victorian gentleman farmer in Somerset who won it for his dairy cattle in 1847.
The original Downton Abbey recipe came out very dry, and further research reveals that there are recipes for both “dry” and “wet” versions of kedgeree. At the very wet end of the spectrum, the dish comes out like fishy porridge, which sounds horrid. My dish isn’t sloppy, just not dry, and I think I much prefer it this way. See for yourself.
- 2 fillets (approx. 1 lb/ 450 g) smoked haddock
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- 2 cups cold cooked long grain white rice
- 1 ¼ cups chicken stock
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 3 large free range hard boiled eggs, shelled and chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley for garnish
- 2 tsp curry powder
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 2 TBSP butter
Preparation and cooking
- Measure the rice into a rice cooker or heavy lidded saucepan in the ratio of ½ cup rice to 1 ¼ cups chicken stock (for 2 cups cooked rice). Err on the generous side with the liquids. Add 1TBSP butter or margarine and cook for about 45 minutes. If your 2 cups of rice is left-overs or pre-cooked, bring it to room temperature.
- Poach the fish in simmering milk for 5 to 8 mins., until tender. Then drain, saving the milk, and flake the fish. Some smoked haddock might be a bit dry around the edges and on the bottom, so scrape all the fleshy bits out and discard the tough outside bits.
- Chop the onion finely, sweat it in the melted butter in a deep frying pan until it is translucent, then add the spices and stir well, frying for a further minute or so. Add 1/4 cup of reserved milk and stir into the mix until you have a slurry. Add the rice and cook until it is warm all the way through, about 5 mins. If the rice still seems dry, add a further 1/4 cup of the milk and mix in well.
- Make the hard-boiled eggs (check out EGGSACTLY for perfect egg recipes). Place 3 eggs into cold water so they are completely submerged. Add a pinch of salt to the water. Put the uncovered saucepan on high heat and bring to the boil. This will take from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pan. Then remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let it sit for 20 minutes, drain and run under cold water to cool the eggs. When cool enough to handle, shell the eggs and quarter two of them for garnish. Chop the other egg well and stir into the rice mix.
- Assemble the dish in a casserole, mixing the flaked fish and rice together, topping with a garnish of quartered eggs and chopped parsley and serve at once. If you’ve cooked the rice and fish earlier, warm in the oven before adding the garnishes.
Another dish that was surely set before the likes of his Lordship, if not the fictional Lord Grantham, for it was certainly popular in Victorian times, was coddled eggs. Coddled eggs are any eggs barely cooked until they are soft boiled, so they can be poached lightly or cooked in their shell, but most people think of coddled eggs as ones cooked in a ramekin or a specially made coddler.
The most well-know of these egg coddlers are manufactured by Royal Worcester since at least the 1890s, posh enough to grace any landed gentry’s table. Our set of coddlers are made of fireproof hard porcelain. Porcelain is a true cookware material impervious to boiling water with excellent thermal shock resistance properties, making them perfect for use in a bain marie. This is such an easy way to cook perfect eggs, I’m surprised I don’t see it more often.
On a trip to The Stop Farmers’ Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns, researching for the new season of Market to Table, I happen on free-range organic duck eggs from John and Inge at Clover Roads Organic Farm, and cook them this way for Sunday brunch, along with heirloom tomatoes and organic spinach nesting on portobello mushrooms. With little triangles of organic grain toast, it makes a perfect meal.
- 1 free-range or free-run large or extra large organic hen’s egg (try duck’s egg for a change)
- 1/4 tsp butter or margarine
- Salt and pepper
- Whole-grain bread (for toast)
- 1 large peeled Portobello mushroom per serving (optional side)
- Organic baby spinach (optional side)
- 1 large heritage tomato (optional side)
- Parsley (for garnish)
- Green onions or chives (for garnish)
Preparation and cooking
- Bring a pan or bain marie of water to the boil. Test that the water will go no further than half-way up the porcelain coddler (or a ramekin), using one per serving. Before cooking, the eggs should be at room temperature.
- Lightly butter the inside of the coddler, then break an egg into it. Add salt and pepper for flavour. Screw on the lid, or seal the ramekin with foil.
- Cook for 8 minutes, keeping the water boiling.
- Lift the coddler from the water by the ring on the lid, or by lifting the ramekin with tongs. Check for doneness. If necessary, replace the lid and return the coddler to the boiling water, remembering that the eggs keep cooking in the hot little pot after they come out of the water.
- Serve one coddler per person, garnish with parsley, with sides of toast “soldiers” or triangles, and your choice of fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes and steamed spinach.
- For variety, garnish with flaked cooked or smoked fish, grated cheese, chopped fresh herbs, green onions or parsley, chopped ham, cooked bacon pieces, or chopped cooked mushrooms.
Categories: Market to Table