Cullen Skink

Cullen Skink

“Oh, Arthur knew,” she said.  “He wouldna admit it, to be sure — not even to himself.  But he knew.  We’d sit across the board from each other at supper, and I’d ask, “Will ye have a bit more o’ the cullen skink, my dear?’ of “A sup of ale, my own?’ And him watching me, with those eyes like boiled eggs, and he’d say no, he didna feel himself with an appetite just then.  And he’d push his plate back, and later I’d hear him in the kitchen, secret-like, gobbling his food standing by the hutch, thinking himself safe, because he ate no food that came from my hand.”

Diana Gabaldon, Outlander (Chapter 25 – Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live)

An unsavoury character, awash in squalor,  describing her dastardly deeds.  A worse segue to a recipe I’ve never seen.

Let’s try that again with a different cullen skink excerpt, shall we?

smoked-cod

“Well, it’s to do wi’ Duncan.”  He looked at once amused and slightly worried.  “There’s a wee difficulty, and he canna bring himself to speak to her about it.”

“Don’t tell me,” I said.  “he was married before, and he thought his first wife was dead, but he’s just seen her here, eating cullen skink.”

“Well, no,” he said, smiling.  “not so bad as that.  And perhaps it’s nay so troublesome as Duncan fears.  But he’s worrit in his mind about it, and yet he canna bring himself to speak to my aunt; he’s a bit shy of her, aye?”

Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 40 – Duncan’s Secret)

Cullen Skink

Better.

If we could just do something about the name of this rich, smoky fish soup that had both me and My Englishman huddled over the pot on the stove, greedily slurping the last spoonfuls.

I have to say that cullen skink is selling itself short with its name.  Created in the fishing town of Cullen in north-eastern Scotland, it gets the other, more unfortunate, half of its name from the German schinke, meaning shin.  The textbook skink is a soup made from shin of beef.

The Scots are an adaptable sort though, especially the fisher folk, so I assume they used regional ingredients they had in plenty, such as smoked haddock and leeks.  Potatoes weren’t under wide-cultivation in Scotland in the 18th C, so their addition must have come later, but they add essential body to this milk-based soup.

Delicious, it’s more than a soup, but not as thick as a chowder.  Served with bread, it makes a filling lunch.  Add a salad and you’ve got dinner.

Authentic cullen skink requires Finnan haddie, a haddock caught off the Moray Firth and lightly cold-smoked using green wood and peat.  You can order it online here.  I was in a hurry, so I used the next best, most economical, choice around here, cod, and smoked it at home. (See the bottom of this post.)

I realize that not everyone has a smoker, but ask around.  Maybe your local fish monger can help.  Or a friend?  Invite them over for a bowl of the finished product and introduce them to one of the world’s finest, and least-known, fish soups.

Cullen Skink

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Cullen Skink

: A DELICIOUS, hearty, smoked-fish soup made from simple ingredients that won’t hurt your wallet or your waistline.

Serves 4

  • Cold-Smoked White Fish (Haddock, Cod, Halibut, etc) – ¾ lb (350 g) (recipe below)
  • Bay Leaf – 1
  • Butter – 2 Tble
  • Leek, white part only, cleaned & thinly sliced – 1 medium
  • Potatoes, peeled & diced – 2 medium
  • Whole Milk – 2 Cups
  • s+p
  • Green Onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal – 2 (for garnish)

Place the fish and bay leaf in a pan just big enough to fit.  Cover with 1½ cups cold water and bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Once boiled, remove the bay leaf and fish to a plate, debone, and flake.  Set aside.  Strain the cooking liquid and reserve.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and a pinch of salt & pepper.  Sauté until soft, 3-4 minutes.  Add the potatoes, as well as the reserved bay leaf and cooking liquid.  Simmer over medium until the potatoes are tender.

Remove approx ½ cup of the leek and potato mixture with a slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside.  Discard the bay leaf.

Add the milk and half of the fish to the pot.  Heat over medium until hot, then puree with an immersion blender.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, mash the solids in the soup with the back of a fork to puree as best you can.

Keep warm until ready to serve, but do not allow to boil.  Taste and season with salt & pepper.  Serve, dividing the reserved fish, as well as the leek & potato mixture, amongst the bowls.  Garnish with sliced green onion.

Traditionally served with Oatcakes, Mrs. Bug’s Buttermilk Drop Biscuits also go wonderfully with this soup.

Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)

brine

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Cold-Smoked Cod

  • Coarse Salt – ¾ Cup (180 ml)
  • Light Brown Sugar, unpacked – ¾ Cup (180 ml)
  • Cod Fillets – 1-2 lbs (450-900 g)

Boil 1 quart (litre) water.  Mix the salt and sugar together in a large bowl.  Pour the boiling water over and stir until completely dissolved.  Add another 1 quart (litre) COLD water (or ice), stir, and set aside until completely cool.

Lay the fish in a single layer in a baking dish and cover with the salt-sugar brine.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, then remove the fish from the brine, blot dry, and place it on the smoker’s rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.  Refrigerate, unwrapped, for a minimum of 4 hours (up to overnight).  The surface of the fish will be slightly tacky to the touch.

Remove the rack from the fridge and smoke at 70°-80°F (20°-27°C) for 3-4 hours, until the flesh is firm but still intact.

Wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.  Keeps 4-5 days.

Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)

I am a professional chef, a food writer and an unabashed fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

17 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    Once described, this sounds delicious. I swear the Brits (and Scots) deliberately choose the most unpalatable names for their food. It’s their version of licking your portion of the food so no one else will take it.

    Reply

    • Tiffany

      That is the greatest description of English and Scottish cooking I have ever read.

      Reply

      • Theresa

        Well that’s a nice thing to say…thank you Tiffany!

        Reply

    • Theresa

      That’s not a bad theory, Lindsey!

      Reply

    • Diane Jensen Donald

      well that explains spotted dick…

      Reply

  2. Elizabeth

    Do you have any suggestions for a substitution for smoking your own cod? I’d love to try this but I’m not sure my schedule will allow 3-4 hours to smoke the fish.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      I suggest starting at your local fish mongers, Elizabeth…they may have smoked white fish, or be able to suggest a substitution. I have seen smoked black cod (aka Sablefish) available, and although not a true cod, it would be a good sub. The price I’m not too sure on…good luck!

      Reply

  3. Diane Jensen Donald

    My grocery store carries smoked kippers (herring) in cans, this is what my Scottish husband says he prefers for cullen skink, but I wonder if the oiliness of the fish would work for soup. I haven’t been brave enough to try making it yet.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Whoa. Herring soup would require courage, Diane. I’m not so sure about that…(but what do I know? LOL)

      Reply

  4. Heather

    Whenever I’m making Cullen Skink; I get the fish shipped to me; it’s a little pricy but It’s always been worth it!

    http://www.scottishgourmetusa.com/product/scottish-smoked-haddock-finnan-haddie-for-sale/smoked-fish-and-game-birds

    Reply

    • Theresa

      That’s a great resource! Thank you Heather…I should have thought of that. :)

      Reply

  5. denizb33

    Ooh, this looks yummy. DH once tried to make a long, labour-intensive, fish soup, and I wasn’t paying attention and thought I was helping clean up, and dumped out the entire pot of stock! Oops!!

    Reply

  6. Christiane Kypraios

    Hello Theresa ! Thanks for the Cullen Skink recipe, seems very tasty and easy to cook, I’ll try the recipe for sure… (I remember reading about it in Karen Henry’s blog last summer). In my country we find a smoked fish (the name here is “Haddock”) which would be ok for that soup I think. Greetings from Paris, Christiane

    Reply

    • Theresa

      smoked haddock is exactly what you want, Christiane! Let me know what you think!

      Reply

      • Christiane Kypraios

        I’ll Theresa, of course ! Thanks.

        Reply

  7. Kristine Phillips

    Theresa, the link is not working for the recipe! I have my own Manitoba Tartan binder for my Outlander recipes! Oh and while I’m at it – Thank you for the gluten-free options, my 7year old was recently diagnosed with Celiacs and now I’m having to do lots of experimenting in my kitchen!!

    Reply

  8. Patricia Fraser

    Yay…grew up with Finnan Haddie in the Yukon many years ago. Loved it. Unable to find a suitable substitute once I was grown up, but will now try the cold-smoked cod.
    Last time I had Cullen Skink was in a rather nice restaurant in Edinburgh one drippy morning. When this Canuck and her Yank friend arrived and immediately ordered Cullen Skink with no question , the server did a double take. It was an absolutely perfect lunch! With hot biscuits.
    I’d like to say also that you have the most attractive (and manageable) website I’ve seen. Well done!

    Reply

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