"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."
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?
"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?"
The Fiery Cross (Chapter 40 - Duncan's Secret)
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.
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.
: A DELICIOUS, hearty, smoked-fish soup made from simple ingredients that won’t hurt your wallet or your waistline.
- Cold-Smoked White Fish (Haddock, Cod, Halibut, etc) - ¾ lb (350 g)
- Bay Leaf - 1
- Butter - 2 Tble
- Leek, white part only, cleaned & thinly sliced - 1 medium
- Potatoes, peeled & diced - 2 medium
- Whole Milk - 2 Cups
- 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.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)