British soups revel in some very peculiar names, from cock-a-leekie to london particular, but perhaps none is more evocative than cullen skink, named after the fishing town on the Moray Firth and an old Scots word for a thin broth. Not that there’s anything thin about this version: packed with smoky haddock and soft, buttery vegetables, it’s the perfect winter warmer.
Prep 15 min
Cook 30 min
500g smoked haddock, skin on
1 bay leaf
1 knob butter
2 medium floury potatoes
500ml whole milk
Salt and white pepper
Chives, chopped, to serve (optional)
1 Start with the fish
Put the fish into a pan large enough to hold it comfortably (cut it in half if it’s too long, but leave the skin on as that brings flavour with it). Cover with about 300ml cold water, add the bay leaf and then bring slowly to the boil over a medium-low heat.
2 Cook the fish
By the time the water boils, the fish should be just cooked – to test this, see if it breaks into flakes at its thickest part. If it’s not quite there yet, turn off the heat and leave it in the hot water for another minute or so. Otherwise, remove the fish from the pan and leave to cool – take the pan off the heat and reserve the cooking liquid.
3 Now for the alliums …
While the fish is cooking, peel and finely chop the onion. Trim and wash the leek, making sure you get any grit from between the layers, then cut it into chunks. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat, then add the onion and leek, cover and sweat gently for about 10 minutes.
4 … and then the spuds
Scrub the potatoes well, but don’t bother to peel them unless they’re very dirty; the skins add flavour. Cut them into medium dice – small enough to eat it in one mouthful, but not so small that they look likely to disintegrate. Add to the pan and stir to coat with hot butter.
5 Add the fish liquor
Pour the haddock cooking liquid into the pan, bay leaf and all, then bring to a simmer. Cook until the potato is tender, which will probably take 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the chunks. Meanwhile, peel the skin off the haddock and discard (or feed to the dog); remove any bones and break the flesh into flakes.
6 Add the milk and fish, then blend
Once the potatoes are tender, use a slotted spoon to lift out a generous helping of cooked vegetables and set aside. Chuck the bay leaf into the compost bin. Pour the milk into the pan, along with half the flaked haddock (keep back the biggest chunks as garnish), then mash or blend the mix until fairly smooth.
7 Season and serve
Season to taste (the fish will probably be already quite salty, but you can never have too much pepper with a cullen skink – white, for preference, though black will also do perfectly well). Bring back to a simmer, then divide between bowls.
Add a spoonful of the reserved vegetables and haddock to each one, along with a sprinkling of chives.
8 And for a spot of luxury…
To make cullen skink extra luxurious (and who could blame you for feeling in need of small pleasures this year), stir in a few spoonfuls of double cream or creme fraiche at the end. You could also add a handful of mussels or prawns – steam the mussels separately and poach the prawns with the fish, whipping them out when they turn pink.
9 Optional extras
As this is a typically thrifty dish, you can use leftover mashed or chopped boiled potatoes instead (simply heat through before blending), or add other vegetables such as carrot or swede to the pan with the onion and leek. You could also use hot-smoked salmon, in which case skip the poaching step and use 300ml of weak fish stock instead of the cooking liquor.