A favorite in England, Scotland, and Washington, D.C.
|Salmon kedgeree by adactio, on Flickr|
Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish that consists of flaked fish (either smoked, poached, or leftover), boiled basmati rice, hard-cooked eggs, curry powder, and some amount of vegetables.
The exact origin is in some dispute. The most commonly accepted explanation is that a 14th-century Indian dish of mung beans and rice was brought back to the U.K. and evolved to include leftover fish during the Victorian era, when refrigeration was not available. However, some Scots point to an 18th century Scottish origin, theorizing that the dish was carried to India and then made its way back to the rest of the Empire during the British Raj.
Like any other dish that represents two cultures shuffled together, the truth is both indecipherable and largely irrelevant to the merits of the dish. More interesting is that it was served in the White House in the 1930s.
Evidently, Eleanor Roosevelt was a fan. Consider this item from the June 11, 1936 edition of the Rochester Journal:
Kedgeree Recipe is First Lady’s Own
As famous as her scrambled eggs is the First Lady’s Kedgeree. The news columns gave this Southern dish prominence and now everybody wants a recipe for making it. Here you are:
Combine two cups cooked rice, four hard boiled eggs, chopped; three tablespoons parsley, chopped; two cups cold flaked cod, one-half cup cream, salt and pepper and thoroughly heat in a double boiler. Six servings.
(Why Southern? I have no idea, although many Scots settled in North Carolina.)
Eleanor Roosevelt had submitted a slightly different iteration to The Congressional Cook Book in 1933:
1 cupful white fish, boiled and flaked
Mix fish with ingredients; add milk, if one likes the mixture a little moist; put in the oven to brown; serve hot.
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, wife of the President of the United States.
Eleanor Roosevelt mentioned learning the dish from her Mother-in-Law, Sara Ann Delano Roosevelt. While the Delano name is of French origin and Sara was born in New York, her mother’s was Catherine Lyman, born Catherine Robbins. Robbins is a name of Scottish origin and Lyman is a name of English origin, suggesting that Eleanor inherited this dish through the women of her husband’s family.
Although still missing curry, there’s another, closer-to-authentic candidate for how F.D.R. took his kedgeree. In her memoir White House Diary, F.D.R.’s secretary Henrietta Nesbitt offers a third recipe and anecdote:
Leftover fish of any white kind, cod, halibut, rock, whitefish or such, was saved for kedgeree, and that was Mrs. Roosevelt’s favorite.
Two cups of cooked rice. Two cups of the fish, flaked. Four chopped hard-boiled eggs. Three tablespoons chopped parsley. One half cup of cream or the broth in which the fish has been boiled. Salt and pepper to taste.
You toss this all up in an open pan or skillet until it’s hot clear through, and serve it heaped on a platter. The President loved it too. Even when the president was being firm about things, like the terrapin, he sounded pleasant.
For context, Nesbitt had served a terrapin soup and F.D.R. insisted it could only be a stew, with cream and butter.
1-1/2 lbs. fresh or frozen fish
2 slices medium onion
2 slices lemon
1 sprig parsley
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
(Carrot, broccoli or zucchini sliced to make 1-1/2 cups)
2 hard cooked eggs
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup rice
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Poach fish — place in salted, simmering water with 2 slices each lemon and parsley and several peppercorns. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes (or until fish flakes) — drain water.
Kedgeree — flake poached fish and discard skin and bones. Save small amount for garnish. Bring 2 cups water to boil; add salt and rice. Bring to boil and reduce heat. Cover, simmer 20-25 minutes.
Saute onion, vegetables and garlic in butter. Add fish, rice, salt, curry powder, pepper, and heat through. Place on heated dish. Garnish with fish, sliced hard cooked eggs and chopped parsley. Serves six.
Henrietta Nesbitt never served as FDR’s secretary. She was a Hyde Park housewife with two grown sons, and a friend of Mrs. Roosevelt. She and her husband made ends meet when the Depression hit by shipping her baked goods to the governor’s mansion in Albany.
Although evidently an excellent baker, Mrs. Nesbitt was way over her head when hired by Eleanor Roosevelt as head housekeeper of the White House in 1932. The White House became renowned for the dreadfulness of its cuisine, as has been vividly documented by historians Blanche Wiesen Cook and Laura Shapiro—and even by Ernest Hemingway! It’s quite a story. In fact, FDR grimly joked that he wanted to win a fourth term as president so he could fire Mrs. Nesbitt, but he never did.