Kedgeree is the very first dish served on Downton Abbey. Mrs. Patmore sends a steaming bowl up for breakfast, and with that we’re immersed in the sumptuous world of Edwardian cuisine. Brits still eat kedgeree today, and it’s one of those dishes that carries a few hundred years of British history along with it. Plus, the name is fascinating, since it directly reflects British colonialism.
Kedgeree originated as khichri, an Indian meal of rice and lentils, often served with chopped, hard-boiled egg. During British occupation of India, the English adapted the dish to their own tastes and eventually brought it back to the home country, where it caught on as a breakfast food. Kedgeree, as it became known (note the Anglicization), featured rice, fish, and egg, with a variety of spices and garnishes depending on the recipe. It was a great way for cooks to use up leftovers in the days before refrigeration, and it was seen as a rather “adventurous” dish. By the time Mrs. Patmore served it at Downton, kedgeree was entrenched in the British breakfast menu.
To make my own, I turned to Mrs. Beeton, that domestic goddess of the Victorian era. Surely, if anyone knew how to make kedgeree, it would be she. But after following her recipe to the letter, I did some comparison research and discovered that she is basically the only person who made it this way.
Beeton calls for leftover rice, “any cold fish,” and two soft-boiled eggs, along with assorted seasonings and mustard. Every other recipe I’ve found, historic and modern, calls for smoked fish and hard-boiled eggs, with mustard seeds (or none at all). These are subtle but noticeable differences, friends. I can’t help wondering if this is one of those old recipes where you really had to know what the writer meant in order for the dish to turn out remotely well. Like, did Mrs. Beeton mean “mustard seeds” when she called for mustard? Did “soft-boiled eggs” back in the Victorian day actually mean “hard-boiled”? In other words, is this recipe just code for a completely different recipe?
We’ll just have to keep on wondering.
I’ve set down my version of Beeton’s recipe below, and it’s not bad. I used cod, which has a pleasant, mildly fishy flavor, and the seasonings and egg actually blend nicely. But it bears little resemblance to anything that originated in India.
(adapted from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management)
1/2 lb cod fillet
1 1/3 cup brown rice, cooked
2 tsp mustard
1 tsp butter, cubed
salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
To make the fish:
Set the fish in a pot and cover with cold water. Set the pot over a high flame and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Remove the fish and let cool.
To make the eggs:
Boil a small pot of water over high heat. As soon as the water boils, turn the heat down to a simmer. Crack the eggs in a small bowl and slip into the hot water, using the side of the pot to guide the eggs into the water so they don’t break. Cook for 5 minutes and remove from water.
To make the kedgeree:
Flake the cooked fish into small pieces. Mix with the brown rice, mustard, eggs, and butter. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Serve hot.