Historic Recipe: Kedgeree (1920s)

Source: A Year’s Dinners; 365 Seasonal Dinners with Instructions for cooking by May Little (c.1920)

And Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookery with nearly 3,000 Practical Recipes by Mrs Beeton (1923)

Two cookbooks today Kate? Yes, I’m pushing the boat out, you’ll see. It’s also a lengthy post so get a cup of tea and settle in.

I had some smoked haddock in my fridge and a craving for kedgeree, so I turned to May Little for inspiration.

Kedgeree is one of those foodstuffs that comes with all sorts stories as to its heritage and the fact is no one really knows. It was definitely a fushion-food created during the British Raj, but what its origins actually are is a matter for some debate. In one corner is the suggestion that it originated from a Scottish dish which was given an Indian make-over when Scottish soldiers were posted there in the nineteenth century. In the other corner is the more popular theory that it developed from the South Asian khichrī, a low spice dish that was given the colonial treatment with the addition of eggs and fish and then eaten for breakfast. This was then transferred back to Blighty with returning troops, merchants and officials. Regardless of its origins, kedgeree became a staple of the upper and middle class Victorian breakfast table.

One of the earliest known kedgeree recipes is that of Stephana Malcolm, who started recording recipes in 1790. Although Malcolm was based in Scotland she had brothers working in India and it must be assumed that kedgeree and the other British-Indian recipes such as ‘mulgatawy soup’ that feature in her notebook came by this route. Her manuscript can be viewed in its entirety on the National Library for Scotland’s website. Malcolm gives the following instructions for kedgeree:

Mince into very small pieces a large cold boiled Haddock or bit of cod, Haddock is best, add to it 4 hard boiled Eggs also minced, boil a large Tea Cup full of Rice, drain & dry it nicely, melt in a stew Pan a piece of butter the size of an Egg, make the Mince very hot in it, mixing with it very lightly the Rice, season with salt and a little Cayenne Pepper, & serve very hot, heaped very lightly on a dish.

Interestingly smoked haddock is yet to become the mainstay of the recipe, but that aside, this recipe is actually not that dissimilar from May Little’s more than a hundred years later.

1 cooked smoked haddock or any cold fish
¼ lb boiled rice
2 hard boiled eggs
3oz butter
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley
Curry sauce

Flake the fish, carefully remove all bones and skin, add the butter, 1 egg chopped, salt and pepper, and the rice, get the mixture very hot, pile on a dish, scallop it round with a knife, garnish with chopped parsley and flaked yolk of egg, place a cup of white of egg on the top with a sprig of parsley in it, serve with curry sauce.

This is actually a really simple recipe to make, I cooked and flaked the fish, boiled the eggs and rice and assembled as instructed, although I did use slightly less butter than the recipe suggested as 3oz is a lot and I’m on a mild post-Christmas health kick. The presentation is ridiculously fussy for no reason that I can ascertain other than exacting early twentieth century cultural norms. I did as I was told regarding the egg white and yolk, but baulked at scalloping and did not have any fresh parsley in the house, so in the end, whilst the recipe was pretty faithfully performed, the presentation was a poor imitation of what May Little was hoping for. Sorry, May. It tasted good though and that’s what really matters.

Now to the curry sauce, I found a recipe for this in Mrs Beeton, which sounded sort of awful, but I’ll try most things once. Here it is:

¾ pint of good stock
1½ oz of butter
1 tablespoonful of curry powder
1 dessertspoonful of flour
1 tomato sliced
1 small onion sliced

Melt the butter in a saucepan, fry the onion until lightly browned, then add the flour and curry powder. Stir and cook gently for a few minutes, then add the stock, and bring to the boil. Put in the tomato, and seasoning to taste. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, then strain and serve.

I definitely had my reservations about this, particularly when I added the stock to the onion-y roux and was faced with brown coloured water with onion bits floating in it. This was also impossible to ‘season to taste’ as it tasted like brown coloured water with onion bits floating in it, but I persevered and added the tomato and simmered. Somehow magically over the next fifteen minutes this transformed into a thick brown curry sauce which absorbed most of the tomato and a good portion of the onion and consequently strained through a sieve quite easily. This tasted much like I expected curry sauce to taste apart from being very salty, this may have been attributable to the above seasoning problem.

The curry sauce and kedgeree combo was actually surprising good, apart from the saltiness.

Suggested alterations: NO EXTRA SALT IN THE SAUCE. In fact also use a not too salty stock as the sauce mixture reduces in the pan

Final verdict: the kedgeree was really nice (butter does that to dishes), although I’d probably forget about the curry sauce in future and just add the curry spices directly to the kedgeree mix


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