English food has been the butt of more culinary jokes than perhaps any other cuisine in the world. I haven’t been to England since 1985, and I hear it’s changed a lot, thanks in no small part to the ravishing Nigella Lawson, but back in the days of Margaret Thatcher, it was, um, really something.
Breakfast was good, though—a protein lover’s dream. Bacon, sausage, eggs, bangers, mash, scotched eggs, beans, fried toast, roasted tomatoes, cereal, tea, jam! You could go for a long time on a breakfast like that—which was a good thing, considering what lay ahead. The English have an amazing knack for creating unappetizing names for unappetizing food. There was Bubble and Squeak (leftover cabbage and mashed potatoes warmed in drippings), Spotted Dick (suet sponge cake with currants), and Sussex Smokies (a weird haddock soufflé).
I don’t know how India feels about the Raj, the period when Britain ruled India, but it sure gave British cooking a shot in the rump roast. Its most notable contribution was Worcestershire sauce, a recipe brought back to England by the departing governor of Bengal and then anglicized. Another example of this kind of early fusion cooking was Mulligatawny, a peppery curried lamb stew.
Another Anglo-Indian treat, Kedgeree, became one of my favorites. A rice-and-fish concoction originally from India, then anglicized in the 18th century, it’s still served in England for breakfast. The Indian original, kitchari, is a basic, rather dull mixture of rice and lentils, “suitable for invalids,” according to one reference source. I first sampled Kedgeree on New Year’s Eve (or was it the wee hours of New Year’s Day?) after a night of revelry in an old country house outside of Oxford. While it’s traditionally made with smoked haddock, I put my own salmon spin on it and found it to be a wonderful, unusual and low-maintenance brunch dish for entertaining friends.
By Martin Booe, a food writer in Los Angeles, Calif.