Scottish heritage recipes – Cullen skink

Cullen skinkThe little Moray town of Cullen on the north-east coast of Scotland will always be synonymous with a soup that is as warming and life-giving as the seas that the men from that town fished were cold and deadly. Cullen skink is literally soup or essence from Cullen. Tradition holds many tales of this soup, that it was made with the smoked smaller catch from the fleet and local potatoes to be eaten aboard the trawlers. Traditionally it was made with Finnan Haddie, a cold smoked haddock which was smoked over green wood and peat, another delicacy of the north-east of Scotland, but any undyed haddock will serve the purpose. These days recipes vary with almost every single person that makes it, whether from a method handed down through the generations or gleaned from a cookbook.

Cullen skinkA soup that is essentially smoked haddock, onions, potatoes and dairy can be found adulterated with leeks, stock, fennel, cumin, saffron, bay and bouquet garni, while the dairy can range from milk to double cream. I like  to use milk only as the poached fish gives it a wonderful flavour and no stock is required. I use leeks for a sweetness and the haddock is always peat smoked as it gives a more genuine flavour and such a wonderful smell when cooking. Also unpeeled potatoes give a bit of texture and body to the soup. I cannot claim this recipe as my own, I don’t think anyone can claim a Cullen skink recipe as their domain but this is the way that I like to cook it. Served at the start of a celebratory feast or as a meal in itself on a cold winters night it brings warmth to the heart.

Cullen Skink

Serves 2

500ml whole milk
1 undyed smoked haddock fillet
1 small leek (white only) chopped
1 small onion chopped
Bay leaf
1 small potato chopped 1cm dice
Knob butter

  1. In a sauté pan over a low to medium heat poach the haddock in the milk with the bay leaf for 3-4 minutes until cooked. Remove the haddock and keep the milk, discarding the bay. Wipe the pan clean with kitchen paper;
  2. In the same pan sauté the onion and leek in butter until soft, making sure you don’t colour them, then add potato, coating well in the buttery vegetables;
  3. Add the retained milk and simmer until the potato is cooked. The smaller the better for potato dice as cooks easier;
  4. Remove half the vegetables and mash the milky vegetable mix with a potato masher or fork. Add back the remaining vegetables and haddock to warm through.
  5. Check for seasoning and serve with good grinding of black pepper.

Photo credit Sumayya Usmani


About Graeme

I want to tell the world of the natural larder and eclectic cuisine of Scotland


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  2. I’m always encouraged by a ‘local’ cook who will admit that there are many variations of a dish! I know from family experience that there can be many variations on a theme.

    I suspect that many a ‘traditional’ recipe has an origin in ‘what I had in the cupboard’.

    Your recipe is incredibly similar to what I grew up with – and my forbears were Irish/Lancashire/Cockney/Spanish.

    And, of course, my own Yorkshire heritage!

    I haven’t made this for a while and fell a Cullen Skink in my near future. Thank you.

  3. Making this week! Love it! Smoked haddock, love! – now to look for peat smoked in London….

  4. Making it today 23/3/2013.. Smells great and hopefully tastes great 😉

  5. Lovely! Beautiful photography and a great recipe! Makes me feel quite homesick!

  6. I’m really loved this soup during my recent holiday in Scotland… Unfortunately is impossible to find smocked haddock in Italy 🙁

  7. LOVE cullen skink and often make it! This is a fabulous post, and lovely photos too! Karen

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