Some time ago I took some leftover kedgeree into work for lunch. As I was microwaving it a curmudgeonly colleague came into the kitchen and grumbled “what is that, a kipper?” He made his tea and left, without condescending to wait for my reply. A few days later, in that week’s office bulletin, was a “polite reminder” not to warm up strongly scented food in the kitchen. I felt suitably reprimanded.
This little episode encapsulates two things I find very interesting about Englishness.
First, the obvious passive aggression following the incident. Given that victim of this grave offence caught the perpetrator red handed, I can’t for the life of me understand why he couldn’t have asked me himself not to do it again.
And secondly, a dislike of their own cuisine.* Say what you like about the quality of English food (I personally would say it is capable of being, and very often is, excellent) but isn’t it just a bit surprising that, in large part, not even they like it? This has its upside of course – it’s what makes Come Dine With Me so great to watch. Who wants to watch four people cook well and enjoy each other’s company? That’s what happens in Come Dine With Me Downunder and look how boring that is. No, we want to see island dwellers screwing up their faces at the thought of eating seafood; or maybe plump radishes grown in England’s green and pleasant land get scraped into the bin because Brenda from Milton Keynes “doesn’t eat salad”.
So here is a recipe for a smoked haddock salad of sorts. I made it out of leftovers but in my opinion that does not detract from it. You can eat it warm or take it to work cold the next day and enjoy a little moment of delicious Englishness without annoying your colleagues.
A fillet of undyed smoked haddock (about 150g but it doesn’t really matter about size)
70g puy lentils
A handful of roughly chopped mint and parsley
Salt and pepper
About a tablespoon (or maybe a bit more) of the best olive oil you have
Lemon juice to taste, say about half a lemon’s worth
- Rinse the lentils. Cover with plenty of water and a ½ teaspoon of salt (or you could use stock of your choice instead; I use chicken stock), bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until done; about 20 minutes. Drain.
- Place the haddock in a saucepan and cover with milk. Bring to the simmer and cook for about 6-8 minutes or until cooked through. Drain. Save the milk for making a béchamel sauce if you like. Using two forks, break the fish into flakes.
- Mix the lentils, fish, parsley and mint together. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and mix again.
This serves one. It’s quite heavy on the fish. You could at least double the quantities of everything else and it would have a respectable amount of fish in it for a side dish.
Wine suggestion: Alsatian Gewurtztraminer (which always goes well with smoked fish). If you need to concentrate in the afternoon (if you are a surgeon, say) or perhaps you’re just not brave enough to have wine with lunch at work: a cup of tea.
*Yes, I do count kedgeree as English, although you might say it was an early example of “fusion” food – born abroad to a mixed-race couple. For a more thorough account of its history without such unsatisfactory metaphors, see David Burton, The Raj at Table: A Culinary History of the British In India (Faber & Faber, 1993) at p. 83-84.