January 5th 2011, in Bristol at least, was a pretty dismal day. It felt like it never really got light, we were shrouded in gloom from dawn to dusk. The chickens seemed to deal with it; I know of no evidence that they suffer from S.A.D. as we humans are inclined to. I fared less well to be honest and felt pretty out of sorts all day. What I needed was a wonderfully warm and comforting supper. Mildly spiced, carbohydrate rich and subtly smoky, kedgeree seemed to be ticking all my boxes. And what better way to serve it than topped with a wonderfully fresh egg from the garden, poached to perfection?
I have been consulting my cookery bible frequently over the last few days. Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is the heavy tome every food lover should have in their kitchen. As a trained biologist I have more than a passing interest in science, and to my mind this book is one of the most fascinating things ever written about food. I urge you to seek out a copy, if you have not done so already.
There is wonderfully generous chapter on eggs and egg cookery that I'm sure I will be thumbing time and time again over the coming months. Poaching eggs the proper way, that is freeform in a pan of gently boiling water rather than in a poaching cup, is something I have long been nervous of. Luckily then that the rules, and reasons therefore, of poaching eggs are explained in detail in Harold's book. To summarise; use the freshest eggs you can lay your hands on (thanks to the girls, mine were literally a few hours old), not to have the water bubbling too fiercely (just a mere gentle simmer is best) and to crack the eggs as low to the water as possible so they don't spread out of sheer velocity on hitting the water.
So here is the recipe. It was completely what I wanted and cheered me no end. A shame then that today has started in much the same way; dark, dreary, damp. Oh well, time to start thinking about tonights comforting supper.....
Kedgeree with poached eggs
Serves 2, generously
350-400g smoked haddock fillet, preferably undyed
50g unsalted butter
250ml milk (whole or semi)
1 leek, washed and finely sliced
1 tsp each of cumin seeds & coriander seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
3 cardamon pods, lightly bruised
200ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
150g basmati rice
2 generous handfuls spinach leaves, washed & drained
2 eggs, as fresh as possible
loose handful flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200/180 fan/gas 6.
Lay the fish in a snug single layer in a baking dish, dot with half the butter, add the bayleaves and pour over the milk. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper, but no salt at this stage as smoked haddock can be quite salty. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through - this could vary a little depending on the thickness of your fillet.
Whilst the fish is cooking add the remaining butter to a heavy bottomed saucepan and melt over a low heat. Add the leeks and cook very gently until soft - about 5 minutes. An even slightly burnt leek is a foul bitter thing so you must take care. To facilitate gentleness I take a piece of greaseproof and scrunch it up into a ball under running water, unscrunch it and lay it over the leeks, tucking it slightly under at the sides. This creates a damp steamy lid which creates moisture and keeps the leeks from getting too hot.
In a small dry frying pan, toast the spices for no more than a minute then tip into a pestle & mortar and coarsely grind. This may seem like a bit of a faff for literally a few seconds cooking but believe me it makes all the difference and wakes up your spices no end. Add the spices to the leeks and fry for another minute or two - this time without the greaseproof lid, which you can discard. Stir through the rice and mix well to coat in all the spiced juices.
Remove the fish from the oven and carefully drain off the milk into a jug. Top up with the stock to give you about 450ml of liquid and pour over the rice. I used chicken stock as I had a little in fridge that needed using - it worked fine and tasted great, but I guess vegetable stock would be the more obvious choice. Bring up to the boil, stir well and cover with a tight fitting light. Turn the heat as low as possible and simmer for 10 minutes, resisting the urge to peek!
Flake the fish carefully checking for any little bones that may be lurking, and set aside in a warm place - back into the switched off and cooling oven is ideal.
After 10 minutes throw in the spinach - don't stir but leave as a deep green leafy layer on top - recover and cook for a further 2 minutes. The spinach should now be wilted but not a total mush. Gently fold it through the kedgeree, along with the flaked haddock, and taste to check the seasoning. Now is the time to add a little salt and possibly a touch more pepper. Turn off the heat, cover again and leave to rest while you poach the eggs.
To poach the eggs fill a wide, deep frying pan with cold water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and very carefully crack the eggs into the water. Leave pretty much undisturbed until they are cooked to you liking. I like mine to be cooked quite well with just a tiny bit of 'run' in the yolk, not too runny, not too dry. Its very difficult to give you times for this as it depends on the size of your egg - the eggs form my girls are still pretty small and it took literally a couple of minutes. I find a good way to check is to touch the surface of the yolk gently with your finger to see how much 'give' it has. If its soft it will give a lot, the less it gives the firmer the yolk will be. Like so much of cooking it pays to rely on your judgement to give you the results that suit you best. Trust yourself!
Serve the kedgeree in warm bowls, topped with an egg and scattered with the parsley.