aka possibly the most fusion thing I’ve ever concocted while starving and improvising…
The story starts with a canned tin of fish.
You see, a while ago, I was on an experimental kick to try different types of tinned fish than the bog standard tuna in cans.
Not that our tuna is similar either.
A very popular brand in Singapore supermarkets is Ayam brand tuna.
Beyond the normal range of chunks and flakes in all varieties of oil and water and mayonaise (plus mildy spicy and hot blends), there is chili, tom yam, tomato chilli, curry, and black pepper flavored tuna, as well as seasoned spicy tuna to stir into Malay fried rice or “Nasi Goreng” (nasi is Malay for rice, goreng for fried.)
The problem is, it’s all tuna. Cooked and prepared in many different ways, yes, but still tuna.
So I branched out to sardines.
I was never an extreme fan of sardines, mostly because our Asian style of sardines fished and prepared and tinned somewhere in Thailand are extremely chunky monsters with bones that are distinctly not ignorable. Their backbones are about the size of a cotton bud’s shaft.
I’ve known people who cheerfully crunch them down regardless, but me, I end up performing spinal surgery on each halved fish before I can face the prospect of chowing down.
Flavor-wise, there’s the same broad profile. Olive oil, olive oil and chili (ridiculously spicy, by the way), chili and lime, black olive and caper, and sardines tuned to more Asian tastebuds with teriyaki sauce or black bean sauce.
Ultimately, I decided I was the biggest fan of the black bean sauce, except the sardines in that tin are fried (no wonder they’re tasty!) and probably best eaten sparingly.
Having exhausted the local brand, I started eyeing the imports. John West and King Oscar are fairly common brands here too, if nearly double the price.
I ended up falling in love with King Oscar sardines. The brisling variety of sardine is a lot finer and more delicate, with no need to extract any bones and a purer fishier aroma.
From there, it was on to tinned anchovies.
Which I’ve never managed to consume whole (such a waste just eating it), but end up using like Chinese-style salted fish or our local ikan bilis to add flavor to other things. It simply dissolves upon heating into the oil to form this ridiculously tasty umami-laden sauce – mix with pasta and vegetables, for example.
Canned salmon was right out, since fresh salmon is available, but what is this curiously labeled tin of “kippers?”
Today, I pulled this out of the cupboard, having run out of ideas for anything else I could eat in a hurry.
One test mouthful revealed a very smoky, intense-flavored fish.
It wasn’t too bad, but it sure was very intense – full of smoke and fish essence with every bite. Not quite as distilled flavor as tinned anchovies, but not exactly on a sardine scale where one would be just inclined to eat them out of the tin.
Well, you could, if you liked mouthfuls of smoke.
Paired like the pictured serving suggestion with bread and a poached egg, both of which are more flavorless in themselves, I could see how smoked kippers might go well.
No bread here, alas. Nor was I in the mood for boiling eggs.
At my wit’s end, I Googled up “kipper recipes” to find a myriad of suggestions for kedgeree.
This is, apparently, a dish of curried rice, flaked fish and boiled eggs, an Anglo-Indian fusion born from the days when India was a British colony.
Despite Singapore being a British colony as well, with Indians represented in our population, this particular dish has never quite made it here, so I have no clue if what I came up with is the least bit authentic.
Probably not, but when you’re dealing with a fusion dish that seems to be improvised from what was available at the time, I doubt it hurts to improvise even further.
1) Set nonstick pot on stove. Dump in generous amount of butter.
2) Lacking onions, substitute with garlic as an aromatic. (Garlic fried rice is tasty, after all!)
3) Scoop out kippers from brine, reserving liquid, and gently fry in butter to aromatize.
4) Dump in washed rice in buttery-kipper mixture to further aromatize. Add some curry powder for spice and toss everything around for a while to coat in oil and heat up.
5) When deemed sufficiently flavored through, add reserved kipper brining liquid and additional water as a stock for the rice to absorb while cooking. Liquid should just about top the layer of rice, sort of a 1:1 ratio. Too much liquid, say a 2:1 ratio or more, and you’ll get savory porridge or congee instead.
6) Cover and steam at a low simmer until rice is about done.
7) Add frozen peas, rinsed and washed beforehand to lightly thaw them out. Stir and continue to heat everything through.
8) Crack in two eggs, let cook slightly, then stir them through the rice to make everything fluffy and “fried rice”-esque.
The last bit was just me being lazy.
Apparently, kedgeree needs to have hard boiled eggs. I’m not that big a fan of either eating nor preparing them that way (an additional pot means more washing up to do!) but I do love me some eggy fried rice any time of the day.
So the result is not quite kedgeree, except that it has curried rice, flaked fish and eggs.
Nor is it quite fried rice, since it wasn’t intensely wok-fried or drenched in oil or started with precooked rice.
Whatever it was, it tasted pretty good.
To further confuse the fusion issue, I took a page off the Malay Nasi Goreng, which pairs its fried rice with crunchy prawn crackers.
There was also Indian murukku in the house, and some of it got crumbled on top of the rice too.
Not wishing to be left out, a Western influence also insisted on being present as toaster-oven roasted carrots and plum tomatoes.
Guess that thing about necessity being the mother of invention is true after all.