Like everything food related in our house growing up, there was a solid ritual around entertaining.
My father kept a notebook in which all the details of the guests, the menu and whether the invites were returned was maintained in his scrupulous script. My mother was allocated the shopping and napkin folding duties, she does a mean bishop’s mitre.
Oh and the clean-up. My father reigned over the rest, including the menus. There were multiple courses, there was pomp, there were days of preparation. It was glorious.
So naturally I love any opportunity to tap into all that historic excitement and to play hostess myself. No one really seems to go in for big dinner parties anymore, so I am lucky that the foodie friends I have allow me to go completely over the top whenever we get together.
It was with some sinking heart then, that prior to our most recent dinner, one of the friends acknowledged that she would be having a rather brutal encounter with a dentist on the morning of said dinner and as such would be there, but may in fact struggling to chew. Ouch.
Comfort food, liquid food, Soup? I hit upon a brain wave: Ceylonese Kedgeree. Sri Lankan to me and you, but the cooking archive I mined the recipe from had missed out on that little bit of Colonial separatist nonsense.
I remember this dish as being salty and smoky and covered in sweet silken hardboiled eggs, but when it came time to review the recipe I was dismayed to see that apart from onions and turmeric there was nothing more to it.
But I wanted more, I wanted much more, and there was no way in hell Curry Powder, the most evil of ingredients was darkening the doors of my kitchen. Internet search commence!
Rick Stein had some good advice, treating the rice albeit Basmati, in the same way as you would Arborio rice in a risotto. Coating it in a lovely ghee-y spice mix before boiling in stock. However a couple of cardamom pods were not going to assuage me, I wanted heat and tang.
If I was serving invalid food it was going to be the sort that would have the invalid dancing on the inside. Though obviously I had to temper the chilli for those at the table with oral stitches.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cardamom pods, split open
1 T yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1 T chopped chilli
¼ tsp turmeric
1 small cinnamon stick
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
450g basmati rice, washed to remove any dirt or debris
1 litre/1¾ pints chicken stock or fish stock, ideally fresh
750g smoked Kawhai or Trevally if you prefer a milder flavour
3 eggs, hardboiled and quartered
2 T lime juice and or Worchester sauce (optional)
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to garnish
· Melt the ghee in a large saucepan, maybe your largest one. Add the onion and cook gently over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Stir in the cardamom pods, turmeric, mustard seeds, chilli, fennel coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon stick and bay leaves, then cook for 1 minute.
· Tip in the rice and stir until it is all well coated in the spicy butter. Pour in the stock, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to the boil, stir once to release any rice from the bottom of the pan. Cover with a closefitting lid, reduce the heat to low and leave to cook very gently for 12 minutes.
· Pull all the flesh from the skin, remove any bones from the fish and break into bite sized pieces.
· Hard-boil the eggs for 8 minutes. Drain the eggs, cool slightly, then peel and chop.
· Uncover the rice and remove the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods if you wish to. Gently fork in the fish and the chopped parsley, cover again and return to the heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the fish has heated through.
· At this point it’s time to add some astringency so either lime juice or Worchester sauce to taste.
· Gently stir in almost all the parsley, and season with a little salt and black pepper. Serve scattered with the remaining parsley and garnished with the hard boiled eggs and additional lemon wedges, if you prefer.