The 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.
A 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.
500ml whole milk
1 undyed smoked haddock fillet
1 small leek (white only) chopped
1 small onion chopped
1 small potato chopped 1cm dice
- 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;
- 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;
- Add the retained milk and simmer until the potato is cooked. The smaller the better for potato dice as cooks easier;
- 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.
- Check for seasoning and serve with good grinding of black pepper.
Photo credit Sumayya Usmani