The Indian Ocean was a prime hunting ground for whalers as well as New England merchant ships in search of exotic spices, tea, and coffee. Indian cuisine profoundly influenced British cooking, owing to England’s long imperial presence in the Subcontinent. New England households subsequently inherited many of these Indian-inspired dishes, such as curries and chutneys, which appear in numerous old Yankee cookbooks. Among the Indian specialties favored during the time of the British Raj was kedgeree, a mash-up of smoked fish, curry, rice, and eggs. The tasty combo is a culinary descendent of khichari, a modest, Indian peasant dish of rice and lentils. Yankee ship captain Isaac Hibbard in his memoir, “Sixteen Times Round Cape Horn” recalled a similar dish of codfish mixed with rice sometimes served on Saturdays. Oddly enough, fresh fish— an easily obtainable resource— was rarely served on board whalers, for the same reasons many diet-conscious diners enjoy fish today.
“Fish doesn’t have many calories and wasn’t really regarded as a genuine source of protein,” said Oliver. Working on board a whaler or clipper ship was hard work, she observed, and sailors needed all the fats and carbs they could get.
“If you’re sailing through the Arctic or you are rounding Cape Horn, you are burning calories as fast as you absorb
Put the rice and a ½ pint of cold water together with a pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and keep the lid on for a further 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion, cover with a lid, and cook gently until the onions are soft, approximately 10 minutes.
While the onions cook, place the fish in another large saucepan and cover with the milk; if the milk doesn’t cover the fish add a little boiling water. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer the fish, uncovered, for 6 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish turns opaque. Take the fish from the milk and remove any skin and bones.
Add the curry powder, cardamom, and bay leaves to the onions and cook for 2 minutes, then add the rice. Stir well.
Flake the fish in to large chunks, add to the rice and onions. Quarter the cooked eggs, add to the rice and stir gently. Add the lemon juice, season with a little salt and pepper and stir again. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.