Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kedgeree: my kind of breakfast

I've never been into cereal or jams.  On a rare occasion, I'll crave sweet crepes topped with lemon juice and sugar, or cinnamon-crusted french toast served with fresh berries, maple syrup and a dusting of icing sugar.  Sometimes I'll even yearn for a glazed apricot danish, one complete with a smooth custard filling perfectly complementing the tartness of the fruit and light crispiness of the pastry.  For the other 362 days out of the year, however, I want savoury.

Photo from

While I enjoy the traditional, like an omelette with mushrooms, cheese and fresh herbs within or a full Irish breakfast with both black and white puddings, I most desire a non-western style breakfast.  Dishes like Huevos Rancheros (eggs served with refried beans on fresh corn tortillas and ample salsa atop, lime on the side); Nasi Lemak (Malaysia's national dish composed of steamed rice cooked in coconut milk, fried anchovies, slices of cucumber, roasted peanuts, sambal and a sliced boiled egg with the addition of rendang as a post-breakfast variation); or the simple Spanish 'pan con tomate' (toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, drizzled in good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt): these are the types of morning meals that excite me most, the ones that make me pause and think, smiling, "this is so good!"

Another such breakfast is kedgeree.  A dish I've been wanting to make for awhile now, a visit to the brilliant Nikau Cafe on Friday for lunch gave me an extra push of inspiration.  Nikau has long been renowned for their kedgeree and I am sure at least half of their customers must order this at least every second visit.   They even sell their recipe as a lovely teatowel.  Like most things though, and especially food, there are many variations of the basic idea.

Nikau Cafe's kedgeree teatowel

Historically, this cross-cultural delight was originally derived from a rice and lentil dish in India and the concept of khichdia "mishmash" of elements to create a nutritious meal suited to both poor and rich, depending on what was lying around.  The British colonists put their own spin of things and added smoked fish and boiled eggs, thus creating the kedgeree we know and love.  Deemed as a great hangover cure, it makes an excellent weekend breakfast, lunch or light dinner or supper.  Basically, it is a perfect meal for any time, any day.

Well-rounded with protein (eggs), omega-3 (fish), carbohydrates (rice), subtle spice (curry powder) and greenery (herbs and optional peas, if you want to tick the box with conviction), I couldn't hope for more.  After devouring my rendition (below) for Sunday brunch, I turned to Google for some post-consumption research.  Due to my boyfriend's allergy to casein (found in cow's milk), I prepared my kedgeree without cream and thought initially that the cream element was unnecessary.  Nikau's recipe employs cream to go into the rice at the end of cooking, to be finished off in the oven so the rice becomes satisfyingly light, yet rich, on the tongue.  While I understand it's place, I usually categorize cream in the 'indulgence' part of my brain and refrain from using it while I am not regularly going to the gym (i.e. all the time).  But my research led me to understand that this is the greatest point of differentiation between kedgeree recipes: the extent of how cream, milk and/or butter are used.

From poaching the smoked fish in milk and using this liquid to cook the rice or adding cream and butter at the end as we do to risotto or sauteed mushrooms, it seems that as long as there is a hit of dairy, you can almost do anything you like with the rest of the core ingredients.  Luckily the casein allergy allows butter through the gates (thank god), so this was my method of richifying.  It took me to find Jamie Oliver's take to locate a recipe without using any cream whatsoever, and this is the ilk of which my version this last Sunday sits beside.  Healthy, yet satisfying - and made healthier still with peas (a disputed kedgeree element), toasted sunflower seeds and flaxseed.  All optional and all variable.  I also experimented by chopping the eggs and stirring through the rice (as Nikau does) but next time, I will simply slice the eggs and serve on top.


One of the biggest ironies I have come to discover with rice is that all Asians I know rely on their automatic rice cookers and are tragic rice cooks without them; while, all non-Asians I know are skeptical of said appliance and will only cook their rice in a pot over the stove (or in the microwave).  How funny is that? While I am all for 'authentic' cooking, for example I despise microwaves (unless for cooking poppadoms), I wouldn't know what I'd do without my rice cooker.  Actually I do: I would burn it.  So here I will recommend cooking rice as you know how.  

2 large free-range eggs, boiled, cooled and peeled
200g basmati rice, rinsed thrice to remove as much starch as possible
1 tsp mild curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
50 g butter, divided into thirds
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or other cooking oil)
1/2 large onion sliced into half rings, as thinly as possible
1 tsp each of fennel and mustard seeds (optional)
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
150g smoked fish fillet, flaked (I used mackerel, traditionalists would use haddock, new-agers salmon - anything is worth trying I'd say as long as it is undyed and of good quality.  It can also be poached in simmering water or milk with a bay leaf for 5 minutes before leaving to cool, removing skin, flaking and setting aside)
1/2 c frozen peas (optional)
Handful of fresh parsley or coriander leaves (choose your flavour), chopped roughly
1 green onion sliced from head to base (or reserve white part if the flavour is too strong for your morning palate)
Handful each of flaxseed and pumpkin seeds (optional)
Wedges of lemon to serve

Cook rice in a familiar method (or follow packet instructions) with curry powder and turmeric added to the cooking liquid.  Set aside to cool.
Toast fennel, coriander and cumin seeds in small dry pan (or in the oven) until fragrant and then grind in pestle and mortar.  Heat the oil in large pan or pot (or wok, even) and one third of the butter in a pan over medium heat and add onions with ground spices and mustard seeds.  Heat gently for 10 minutes.  Onions should be soft, fragrant and just before starting to caramelise.
Add another third of butter, peas if using and flaked fish (either pre-poached in water or milk and a bay leaf if you have one).  When peas are cooked through, add rice and stir through with the last third of butter, green onion, parsley/coriander, turning heat off as you do.  This is where I added seeds as well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with egg sliced or quartered on top and wedges of lemon.

A poor photo of two delicious bowls of fragrant, savoury kedgeree about to be spiked with lemon 

The best thing about the dish is it's possible variations.  As I mentioned earlier, I will slice my egg and serve it on top next time as I missed the satisfying bite of a boiled egg.  Perhaps the time after that, I'll try a soft-poached egg allowing the yolk to contribute it's richness as it's broken into.  I'd also like to see how poaching the smoked fish affects the flavour; and, if a mixture of coconut cream and water to cook the rice would add a creaminess not too dissimilar to using cream itself.  The variations are endless.

Stay tuned.

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