Thursday, January 24, 2013

Scottish food: Cock-a-Leekie soup

Originally posted in February 2007; fully updated in January 2013. Cock-a-leekie soup / Kana-porrusupp

Photo by Juta Kübarsepp for the January 2013 issue of Kodu ja Aed. Recipe and styling by Nami-Nami. The tablecloth is Estonian national tartan - the blue, black and white representing the Estonian flag, the red and golden representing Scotland's Rampant Lion. 

Tomorrow the friends of Scotland and all things Scottish across the world celebrate Robert Burns' birth anniversary, hosting or attending a Burns Supper. And any self-respecting Burns Supper begins with a proper Scottish soup - either Scotch Broth or Cock-a-Leekie. As the latter is a) considerably cheaper and b) considerably easier, and something that I've cooked over and over again. Amazingly, so few ingredients (a chicken, some leeks and some juicy prunes) can result in such a flavoursome soup.

Here's the recipe for a lovely and flavoursome cock-a-leekie. It started off as a recipe from Sue Lawrence's Scots Cooking: The Best Traditional and Contemporary Recipes (excellent book, by the way!), but I've tweaked both the amounts and the instructions, including the cooking method, considerably.

Cock-a-leekie
(Cock-a-leekie supp ehk šotlaste kana-porrusupp)
Serves 10 as a starter or 4 to 6 as a main course. 

1 chicken (1.5 kg)
3-4 large leeks (1 kg)
20 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
about 2 litres water
20 juicy prunes, stoned and sliced
fresh parsley, chopped

Place the chicken in a large saucepan. Halve the leeks lengthwise, wash them well, then cut off the green parts. Chop these roughly and add to the pan with the peppercorns and bay leaf. Add the water - it should just cover the chicken. Season lightly with salt.
Bring slowly into the boil, skim off any scum that appears at the surface. Then cover and simmer for about 1.5-2 hours, until the chicken is cooked. Remove from the heat and let it cool.
Take out the chicken and remove the leeks, either with a slotted spoon or by draining the soup through a colander. Discard the cooked leeks. Remove the chicken flesh from the bones and chop into smaller pieces.
Chop the white part of the leeks, add to the pan with the prunes and chicken and bring to the boil again. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the leeks are just done.
Season with plenty of salt and pepper and serve with chopped parsley on top.

11 comments:

Pamela said...

Pille your cock a leekie soup looks wonderful. A true taste of back home!

Sounds like you had a wonderful Burns supper!

Jeanne said...

OK, now I've learnt something - I never knoew cock a leekie had prunes in it! Looks great - and so easy :)

keiko said...

Oh Pille, I want a BIG bowl of this soup right now - looks so lovely! PS let me know about your trip to London ;)

Pille said...

Pamela - I really enjoyed the clean flavours of the soup, and will be definitely making it again soon. And yes, Burns supper was great!

Jeanne - I used Sue Lawrence's recipe for this, and she specifies that "Interestingly some recipes exclude the prunes, but I think they are essential for their contrasting sweetness" (Scots Cooking, p 32). Janet Warren's "A Feast of Scotland" also uses prunes (as well as bay leaves and rice). I was totally won over by this unusual combination, for sure:)

Keiko - thanks:) And I'll definitely let you know about my April visit!

Zak said...

Prunes?!? When I was growing up we never had prunes in it. My gran always used the whole flag (green part) of the leek as well - for colour, as well as flavour.

Hopeless making this soup nowadays, unless you can find a decent chook. What type did you use?

Pille said...

Zak - I've got few Scottish cookbooks at home, and both Sue Lawrence and Janet Warren include prunes in their cock-a-leekie recipes. Even Alastair Little's & Richard Whittington's "Modern British Cookbook" includes prunes. The fact that your gran didn't include prunes in her version of cock-a-leekie doesn't mean that other versions are wrong. Janet Warren does quote a 1826 cookbook by Meg Dod, who claimed that the addition of prunes to the soup was going out of fashion. I'm pleased they're in again, as they are a wonderful addition to the soup.
Thanks for the use-whole-leeks tip - I'll keep that in mind.
And as far as the chook is concerned, I used a nice fat chicken found from the chiller cabinet in a local supermarket. Worked like a dream, i.e. gave plenty of flavour to the soup:)

Stonehead said...

During a visit to Scotland, Fynes Morrison wrote in 1598 that he 'was at a knight's house, who had many servants to attend him, that brought in his meat with their heads covered with blue caps, the table being more than half furnished with great platters of porridge, each having a little piece of sodden meat. And when the table was served, the servants did sit down with us; but the upper mess, instead of porridge, had a pullet, with some prunes in the broth.'

Sir Walter Scott mentions Morrison's observations in his footnotes to Waverley — but neglects to mention the next sentence, which acerbically states "And I observed no art of cookery, or furniture of
household stuff, but rather rude neglect of both, though myself and my companion, sent by the Governor of Berwick upon bordering affairs, were entertained in the best manner."

So much for Scots cuisine in the 16th century, but that is the earliest mention I've come across of something like cock-a-leekie and it does have prunes.

Alastair said...

Pille
Thanks for the recipe, your soup looks really delicious!
I think to have it with some Scottish baps

Best regards!

Pille said...

Stonehead - thank you for the impressively interesting historical tip re: cock-a-leekie and prunes!!! Much appreciated!

Alastair - thanks for the comment - and I'll be surely checking out some of your Scottish meal tips on your market's website :)

Paz said...

I like the sound and look of this soup -- delicious! Thanks for stopping by my blog. It was good to see you there. xoxo

Pille said...

Paz, apologies for being such a rare visitor - life is a struggle (a good one, but still) with three small kids :)