“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?’ or ‘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.”
The word “skink” comes from the German schinke, meaning shin. While the textbook skink is a soup made from a shin of beef, Highland fisherfolk adapted the recipe to use the regional ingredients they had in plenty, such as smoked haddock and leeks.
More substantial than a soup but not as thick as a chowder, serve with a crusty loaf of bread or Mrs. Bug’s Buttermilk Drop Biscuits for a filling lunch. Add a salad to that, and you’ve got dinner.
In a medium saucepan, cover the fish (cut to fit if necessary) and the bay leaf with 3 cups cold water. Bring to a low boil over medium heat and cook gently until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and fish to a plate. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve it for later, along with the bay leaf. Debone the fish, flake with a fork, and set aside.
Rinse the chopped leeks thoroughly in a bowl of cold water. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon or your hands, leaving the silt and sand behind. Shake dry in a clean dishcloth or salad spinner.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the potatoes, as well as the reserved cooking liquid and bay leaf. Simmer over medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove about 1 cup of the leek and potato mixture with a slotted spoon and set aside. Discard the bay leaf.
Add the milk and half of the fish to the pot. Heat over medium flame until hot, then puree with an immersion blender or countertop blender. Alternatively, you can mash the solids with the back of a fork to puree. Keep warm, but do not allow to boil.
Season to taste and serve, dividing reserved fish and leek and potato mixture mixture among bowls, garnished with the scallions. Keep leftovers in the fridge up to 3 days. Do not freeze.