Contains: Gluten, grains. Is: In this case, a soup with home-grown poultry.
Cock-a-leekie soup, a warming Scottish meal. Yes, I still prefer to eat all soups with Chinese spoons! Very efficient.
This one is for the Scottish feast of St. Andrew, which occurs November 30th, a Saturday this year. It’s Scotland’s national holiday, according to Wikipedia, which provides the Scots (language) name: Saunt Andra’s Day , and the Scottish Gaelic name: Là Naomh Anndrais. Consider it akin to St. Patrick’s Day being for Ireland, although celebrating this one is much more of a recent thing. (Burns Day gets more press and celebratory moments – but I didn’t want to wait until then to make something Scottish…) This is also a suitable dish for the Scottish New Year – Hogmanay. And yes, for Robert Burns Day, when that comes back around next year.
The stained glass at St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo mine 1995.
Scotland was my favorite foreign country to visit – not that I’ve visited enough of them to be this definitive! I love Scotland. Been there four times. As far as I know, I don’t have Scottish heritage (DNA analysis shows I do have some Celtic, but from where I don’t know). And we really don’t know that much about the Pictish DNA background, anyway (yet). I’m fascinated by the Picts, and seriously resonated with Pictish artifacts when I last visited Scotland. I want to return!
I’ll post more about my affinity to Scotland at the end of the recipe. Makes it easier to skip should you lack interest in that aspect of this post! I will note that right now I don’t have direct access to my 1995 photos, so the ones I’ll show here will be small (as befitted computer monitors as of 1995…)
Scotland: Eilean Donan. Photo mine, 1995.
.:My recipe is an amalgamate of the following ideas:.
I’m figuring the original soup was based on cocks/cockerels like this one (from the name of the soup if nothing else), so he became a good surrogate for the soup. If you don’t have a cockerel or rooster that HAS to go, try to find a free-ranged chicken somewhere – use either the whole bird or the thighs/legs. Cooking will take less time than needed for a true cock of the age this one is. (A full-fledged rooster is sometimes defined as a male chicken that is over a year in age – but I think the distinctions can be hazy. No, he did not have fully-developed spurs yet – simply nubs, or a crow… – which may also be a consideration in definitions.)
Cockerel carcass sitting in veggie broth and water. Note a few pin feathers. They’re fine.
Barley is traditional – rice didn’t really grow in Scotland. At least, not well. I went with barley, for that reason, as well as the fact that I don’t care for soggy or mushy rice. You will notice that the leftover barley will expand overnight, turning this soup into more of a stew. (Add more broth into your leftovers, or do as I did – eat it as a stew…)
Traditionally, the dish also has prunes. I noticed prunes sitting in a jar at a local market, but refrained – simply because I had no clue what I’d ever do with the rest of them! (I absolutely love plums, but the prune phase? I hadn’t enjoyed them in days gone by, but I do think for a dish like this, they’d actually work.)
Celery and leeks added to the pot.
- Okay, I used a real farm-fresh cockerel (as noted, most likely you will have to adapt in terms of braising and temperatures. I will leave such notes with the recipe.
- Many contemporary recipes use rice. I went with barley, which the earlier Scots certainly grew. They definitely didn’t know rice!
- The traditional recipes usually included prunes. Ahem. Not sure how fond of them I am – not with their connotations of being the best cure for constipation around – but, I certainly didn’t have to overload the dish with them. Apparently, there’s not one “set in stone” recipe for cock-a-leekie – you need the cock/fowl, you need the leeks — but beyond that (although keeping a grain in there that would have been available in Scotland in history) it’s up to the cook. So. Okay. A few prunes. I ended up not using them since the only jar I could find of them in my local shop was going to provide me with a lifetime of the things… but I wish I could have!)
Barley is added. A little salt and pepper will be added now, too. Ready to cook!
Of course, yes, I am doing modern things. My kitchen, for one, is modern, and I can adjust temperatures appropriately. But I’m trying to go back to original ingredients for this one, as much as can rationally be possible. (Some day I want to make authentic haggis, which I’ve enjoyed in Scotland at several locations under several preparations – but it’s illegal to sell lamb/sheep lung in the US. I have to wait until I raise my own. Then, I can do what I want.)
The dish has finished simmering, it is now up to me to remove the meat from the bones, return the meat to the pot long enough to make sure everything is hot, and taste for salt and pepper.
Prep Time: 15 minutes.
Cook Time: Around 2 hours (but look here).
Rest Time: Not necessary.
Leftovers: YES. May go from “soup” to “stew” overnight.
- 1 cup low sodium veggie broth. (Home made chicken broth is a great alternative.)
- 2 cups water.
- 1 torso cockerel. (Breast, back, drumsticks, thighs). If you use supermarket chicken, broken up, simply cook less as indicated below. Optionally, remove skin. I did not.
- 1 LARGE leek, roots and the dry top removed. Slice horizontally, making sure to cleanse out any dirt that usually appears in these. Or use two smaller leeks.
- 2 ribs celery – slice once along the length, then chop into smaller portions.
- 1/3 cup barley.
- OPTIONAL: about two-three chopped prunes. Traditional!
- OPTIONAL: 1 chopped carrot. Mainly for color. Didn’t have (so I didn’t use.)
- Salt and ground pepper to taste. Start with a little at first, add more if needed when finished.
Put all of the above into a good cooking pot, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer for two hours (checking liquid).
If you are using a supermarket chicken, 1.5 hours will suffice. If you are using a year old or so rooster or hen, you may want to go three hours. This cockerel (about 4-5 months old) was good at 2 hours.
When cooked, you can cut the meat off the bones, returning the meat to the broth and serve as a true soup, or you can serve this as-is, depending on your whims. I decided for the sake of the blog, to debone and return this.
Add pepper and salt, to taste, preferably at the end (as you don’t know how much liquid will evaporate off in advance). Serve.
This soup is shared at:
Scotland was an awesome country. I’d go back in a heartbeat. I especially love the highlands and the islands – although I took a trip to the lowlands south of Glasgow, that was of lesser interest to me. (But still a beautiful countryside.) I do regret not getting to the Orkney Islands – they had day trips to the islands, via plane out of Glasgow, and you could even reserve a spot more or less on the moment. Unfortunately, my “free” day was the day before I was to leave Scotland for Connecticut, and they said weather was iffy enough they could not guarantee me a flight back in time for me to go home the next morning.
I want to visit the Orkneys (Skara Brae, a early pre-historic site), and I want to see the Callendish Stones of the Isle of Lewis. As noted, I discovered an affinity for the Picts while I was there – an early culture in Scotland that left behind some enigmatic carved stones.
My favorite stop was also on a “free” day, my only other free day – just a lark, actually. Researching places to go was a bit more difficult back in the mid-90s than it is today. I took a morning train up the lower coastline of Scotland from Glasgow to (what would have been an ultimate destination of) Aberdeen. I realized that if I went all the way to Aberdeen, I wouldn’t have enough time there that day, so I picked two other towns to try – Dundee, and Arbroath. I’d pick one or the other, both apparently have cultural things of interest.
The train stopped at Dundee. I looked out the window, and cringed. Too built-up for me. There was likely great stuff to visit somewhere in there, but I shook my head.
Arbroath was next. I got off at Arbroath, with a list of a few things to see. (Mind you, first and foremost, this town’s name is NOT remotely pronounced (to American ears) as it is spelt.)
This was a magical day, despite the skies being overcast for the entire visit. I visited the lighthouse, which was set up as a museum. Did you know that back in an earlier day, the womenfolk carried their men out to their fishing boats on their backs, so that the men wouldn’t get their feet dangerously wet and chilled during their long days of fishing?
I had an early lunch of smokies, which is smoked haddock, a traditional dish of this town and region. I went to the tourist information kiosk near the harbor, and asked where I could find a couple items of interest in town.
“Oh, there’s going to be a parade in an hour – right past the ruins of Arbroath Cathedral. A parade celebrating the end of the War here, 50 years ago to this day. You can’t miss this.” (Or words to this effect.)
“Oh, you want to see St. Vigeans. It’s just down this road, and turns onto that road, not far at all.” (Or words to this effect.)
I went to the Cathedral first. Normally I dislike parades, but how often do you see one celebrating 50 years after the end of the worst war of the 20th century? The parade was moving. The Cathedral ruins were also moving, and fascinating. During the Reformation of King Henry VIII, a lot of Catholic properties and churches were razed and dismantled. Over the centuries, stone has also been removed for other building projects.
Parade, 50 year celebration of the end of the European Front portion of WWII. Arbroath, Scotland. Taken from the grounds of the Cathedral. Photo Mine, 1995.
Well, afterwards I went to take my short walk to St. Vigeans. This is a small church located on the outskirts of Arbroath.
Short walk? Riiiiightt! Not really. (I had told the woman at the kiosk I was on foot…) At this point I already knew that I’d gotten fascinated by Picts, so I just kept walking. And walking. And walking. Her directions were fine, just nothing was accurate about distance. Finally I found the place. The church itself is old, but is still totally functional – indeed there’d just been a wedding there, and a lone piper was piping the people out to wherever they were going to have a reception.
St. Vigean’s, Arbroath, Scotland. There was some note saying they requested visitors NOT take photos in the small Pictish museum room in the outbuildings. Unfortunately?, I obeyed the request. Photo: Mine, 1995.
There are a series of outbuildings there, and I’d been told (or read) that this was where the Pictish stones recovered from some refurbishing of this church had ended up. A note on the door to one of the outbuildings told me I could go request the key from the pastor / caretaker (can’t remember which it was, or if the same person did indeed keep the same function.)
I got the key, and went into the room alone, and obeyed the injunctions NOT to touch any artifacts, or to take any photos. I did get a small brochure about the place (which had black and white photos). I was in there totally alone, and while I was in total appreciation of the requirement not to touch anything – finger oils do eventually degrade things – I really wish I’d been allowed to use my camera. I respected their wishes, however.
Aberlemno Stone, in Aberdeen. Also called the Serpent Stone. Photo by D Lloyd, and taken from Wikipedia. I didn’t get to Aberdeen this trip. Pictish engravings. Placed here because I couldn’t take my own Pictish photos.
As noted, most of the stones had been found during a renovation / refurbishing. Apparently early on Picts had used this particular hill mound for their own possibly-spiritual purposes, and when the area was taken over from the Picts, churches were often (all over the Celtic world) also built on the tops of hills. And they incorporated whatever rock they could find into what they were building – hey, it’s here, let’s use it! In more recent years, an appreciation of archaeology means that when such artifacts are found, they may end up in a museum of sorts. We only have a vague idea today of what the symbols they carved into stone is supposed to me. Often, one side will be truly Pictish, and another side will incorporate new (to them) Christian influences.
I stayed here as late as I could, returned that key, and hiked back into town, where I found an Indian eatery. Enjoyed dinner, and took the train back home.
Oh, fascinating about that train… I’d left as early in the morning as I could, for my venture. They send a trolley down the aisle, just like on an airplane. And even at 8:30 in the morning, that trolley contains… Scots whisky. For those who need the hair of the dog??
Trip to Scotland 1995: also included a World Science Fiction convention in Glasgow (yeah, I’m a geek). Edinburgh Fringe Festival – I met up with other friends doing a bicycle tour for that. Edinburgh marching bagpipers. A pre-set Island and Highlands 3-day tour – LOVED IT. A pre-set day trip down to some estate in the lowlands – Meh. The day I couldn’t get to the Orkneys I ended up going through museums in Glasgow, then admiring some serious architecture, not watching where I was walking while looking up, tripping on a curb, and discovering British healthcare even covers foreign folk who fall prey to stupid accidents involving the right/dominant hand that will have to help manhandle suitcases home the next day. Okay, I certainly was NOT cured by the next day, but I’m glad someone professional looked at it! (I had two suitcases, one of which had gotten loaded down with Scottish wool sweaters and whatever the limit for genuine whisky was at that time… And my carry-on pouch, mostly for passport, camera, and stuff like that.)
Scotland… I wanna come BACK!
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