Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Kedgeree's Eccentric Cousin

Once upon a time, when I was still young and foolish, a lady friend offered to cook me dinner. She made a classic kedgeree and very nice it was too. The second thing she cooked for me was also kedgeree. So was the third and the fourth. It turned out that kedgeree was the only dish she could cook. After a while,  she went off with an annoyingly handsome bloke from Sweden who played electric violin. Another friend of mine offered to cheer me up by making me dinner. She made me kedgeree. 

It hasn't put me off, though; I still love this British classic. Although, after all these years and several shedloads of kedgeree, I do tend to throw in a few variations now and then. This version has so many variations that I don’t think it’s quite kedgeree any more. One major variation is that I use short grain brown rice, which adds nuttiness and extra texture to the dish.  (This type of rice isn't common in supermarkets but you can find it in health food shops.) Rather than smoked haddock this time, I've used some poached white fish with the touch of smokiness coming from a little smoked salmon and the black cardamom. The type of white fish isn't critical, but pollock works well and is generally considered sustainable. Although eggs are traditional in kedgeree, I've added a few pieces of artichoke heart instead, just for a change.

I've also added a fromage frais (or yogurt) sauce to the dish as a contrast to the nuttiness of the rice. This sauce was inspired by two very different things. Back in the late 1970s, I remember eating fish dishes in English restaurants garnished with a slightly addictive condiment, which was made largely from mayonnaise and lime pickle. In more recent times, I heard about Alain Ducasse’s version of Le Fish’N’Chips which uses lime and Thai basil (amongst other things) in an alternative to tartare sauce.
Kedgeree's Eccentric Cousin
The herb perilla is a member of the mint family and is most commonly grown in the Far East. If you find the plant for sale in Britain, then it’s likely to be called shiso in line with the Japanese name, but the seeds are usually sold under the botanical name of perilla in garden centres. It has a fresh, slightly spicy and rather fruity taste that goes well with fish dishes. Perilla plants can look a little weedy, but I've been growing a bi-coloured type, which I think looks very pleasing. It’s easy to grow from seed, but it does seem to appreciate a bit of warmth and it will tend to sulk if it gets too cold or if it dries out too much.
Perilla
Treat the amounts and ingredients here as a guide only, they can easily be varied according to taste. It’s a very forgiving dish. This will serve 2.

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 litre light fish stock
2 cloves, garlic, finely chopped
2 cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 or 4 black cardamom pods
Generous pinch dried chilli flakes
Juice of 1½ limes
150 g short grain brown rice
200 g white fish, such as pollock
Small handful of fresh or frozen peas
100 g smoked salmon, either small chunks or offcuts
80 g grilled artichoke hearts, cut into large chunks
5 tbsp thick fromage frais or Greek yogurt
2 tbsp Thai basil (or another spicy basil variety), chopped
Zest of 1 lime
3 tbsp perilla (shiso) leaves, chopped

Soften the onion slowly in a little oil and butter. While that’s happening, toast the cumin and fennel seeds lightly in a dry frying pan. Carefully split the cardamom pods and remove the seeds – don’t throw the pods away. Crush the cumin, fennel and cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar. Heat the fish stock to simmering point.

Once the onion is soft, stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains in the oil. Stir in the ground spices, the chilli flakes, a little pepper, the empty cardamom pods and the juice of 1 lime. Stir in two ladlefuls of the hot fish stock. If you've ever made a risotto, then you’ll know the drill from this point – stir frequently and, once the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock. Keep adding the stock one ladleful at a time and keep stirring (you don’t have to stir continuously, but the more the better), until the rice is almost tender. There are two obvious differences when using short grain brown instead of the more usual white rice: it won’t seem as creamy and it will take a fair bit longer to cook. In fact, you could be simmering and stirring for 45 minutes, so allow enough time – it is worth it, honest.

While the rice is cooking, poach the white fish gently in water or a very light stock until it’s just tender and comes apart in flakes. The poaching time will vary with the type and thickness of the fish you use, but it’s unlikely to be more than 5 minutes. Once cooked, remove the fish from the poaching liquid and allow it to cool a little. Break into flakes or chunks once it’s cool enough to handle.

When the rice is almost tender, add the peas and allow them to cook with the rice for a few minutes. Stir in the smoked salmon, artichoke hearts and poached fish and allow them to warm through for a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the fromage frais sauce. Mix the fromage frais (or yogurt) with the chopped basil leaves and the lime zest. Season with a little salt and pepper (white pepper will look best).

Adjust the seasoning of the rice mixture and add the juice of another ½ lime. Fish out the cardamom pods and discard them. Stir in the chopped perilla, take the mixture off the heat, cover the pan and allow it to sit for a few minutes. (If you’d like a smoother and richer finish to the dish, than stir in a little butter.) Serve in warmed bowls with a couple of spoonfuls of the fromage frais sauce on top.

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I know it's not a very common herb, but perilla is a herb nonetheless. So I'm adding this to the October Cooking With Herbs Challenge over at Lavender and Lovage.


Cooking with Herbs

18 comments:

  1. I love kedgeree Phil - you have completely whetted my appetite. I must go and make a midnight snack....

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    1. You know, midnight is an excellent time to eat kedgeree in my opinion. So much better than some of the stuff that I've eaten at midnight over the years.

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  2. I absolutely adore kedgeree Phil and also enjoyed your story, I wonder if the Swedish man with rich pockets is now the recipient of numerous fishy rice dishes, or if the young lady now has more to her cooking repertoire - being several years later of course! I also love the use of Perella, a herb I HAVE seen when I lived in the Far East. A wonderful tale of young love and a fabulous entry into Cooking with Herbs, thanks so much. Karen

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    1. I'd like to think that there's plenty of kedgeree being served up in Sweden to the sound of very loud violins.

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  3. wow, I love your twist here and funnily enough i've JUST made something very similar with smoked haddock... lovely stuff and that mint looks really intriguing, I must hunt some down.

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    1. I think I've seen perilla in Korean food shops but it's not that common. Pretty easy to grow if you have a sunny windowsill, though

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  4. Very intrigued by perilla and sounds like a wonderful addition to your kedgeree - lots of great flavours! Also intrigued by the sound of lime and Thai basil in a sauce for fish and chips. This post has me craving some kedgeree now!

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    1. I think the lime and basil with fish and chips probably came from Mr Ducasse's variation on a local dish when he first got involved at the Dorchester. I don't think it's on the current Dorchester menu and, unless I win the lottery, I don't suppose I'll ever find out for sure.

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  5. I have never heard of kedgerees, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. But it sounds fabulous. Your version sounds SO good!

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    1. It's really worth trying kedgeree in some form or another. It definitely does deserve its classic status.

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  6. I've never tried kedgeree, but your post has made me want to make it.Great mix of flavours. Perilla sounds worth looking out for.

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    1. Unless you really dislike smoked fish (and I've known one or two people that way inclined) then I think you'll really like kedgeree. It's not just the combination of flavour that I like, it's the combination of textures too. Mind you, I have eaten a very great deal of it over the years, so I might be biased.

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  7. This sounds delicious Phil, it is high time I try some good Kedgeree and you have a wonderful recipe here - and I loved the story : ) Ozlem

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  8. This sounds really good, sure I will never find a perilla plant here but maybe if I use a little mint instead.... Have a good weekend. Diane

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  9. Aaah, it's the western khichdi! Yours looks so balanced and fresh. When I'm low in energy or unwell, nothing comforts me like khichdi, your pic and story are very evocative and I enjoyed reading your post! I'm glad that I found your site whilst entering Karens herb challenge x

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  10. love the ingredients have never tried it and love the name of the sand cake

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  11. Not quite sure how I missed this post until now.....
    I have unpleasant memories of kedgeree served up in seaside hotels. Which is a shame as we both love smoked fish. Now that Nick works from home a few days a week and I have the opportunity to provide sensible lunches, especially ones he can eat from a bowl with a fork without leaving his desk, this sounds absolutely perfect. I shall try it at the first opportunity.

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    1. Now you come to mention it I have come across some disturbing examples of kedgeree in hotels - usually kept slightly warm next to the congealed scrambled egg. Such a shame, because when freshly cooked it's a genuine classic, whatever recipe you use.

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