Karl’s Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Wife Jan has just had dental work and needs something soft and filling, a tasty soup would fit the bill. Cock-a-leekie soup is a traditional Scottish soup from the 16th Century when Scotland and France were aligned against England. Originally a French chicken and onion soup, the Scots used their local ingredients—leeks and barley to make a similar soup.

Karl’s Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Karl’s Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Note: I posted another soup that I was thinking of calling “Cock-a-Leekie Soup,” but when I looked that name up it was nothing like the traditional version.

When I try to make a recipe traditional, I think about which of the ingredients commonly used in most of the modern versions of the dish would simply not be commonly available to a 16th Century Scots cook. For example, the Scots substituted leeks for the onions, because they had a similar flavor but were cheap and commonly available. Also while the English versions of the dish frequently include rice, it would have been an expensive and uncommon ingredient in Scotland at the time. Barley and oats are the Scottish staple grains, so barley is the obvious choice.

Note: While prunes are a controversial ingredient, it is apparently a traditional and required addition.

While the basic soup is chicken, leeks, and barley, should anything else be added? The Wikipedia entry mentions “a peppered broth” and salt is a given. Many of the recipes have added: bacon, brown sugar, butter, bay leaves, carrots, celery, dill, onions, parsley, parsnips, thyme, and wine.

Note: One recipe even included soaking the prunes in Scotch—a clear crime against nature and Scotch whiskey.

While several of these listed ingredients might have been available to a 16th Century Scots cook, many strike me as modern cooks imposing their own thoughts on what goes into soup. Cock-a-Leekie Soup should taste mostly of chicken (cock) and leeks (leekie). Putting myself in a limited kitchen with little access to world cuisines and ingredients, I finally decided on adding butter and just a little carrot to enhance the soup’s primary flavors.

Karl’s Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Ingredients

2 Tbs. butter
1½ lb. chicken thighs

3 leek, white parts only, sliced finely
1 small carrot, grated
½ tsp. Kosher salt

32 oz. chicken broth, low sodium
½ cup pearled barley
4 prunes, pitted

½ tsp. black pepper (to taste)

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot, over medium high heat, and brown the chicken well.

Tip: You want a good fond to develop on the bottom of the pot, this will give you a good chicken flavor.

Note: You want to cook the chicken all the way through, so that it will be easy to shred.

2. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and without cleaning the pot, sauté the leeks and carrots with the salt until soft, about 6-7 minutes.

Tip: The salt will release the moisture in the vegetables more quickly, allowing you to deglaze the pot.

Note: You do not want to over brown the vegetables. If you wish, you may use entire leek with the green parts as well as the white parts.

4. Add the half of the chicken broth, barley, and prunes to the pot and bring it to a boil.

5. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

6. Remove the prunes to a plate to cool.

Note: When the fruit has cooled julienne the prunes.

7. Continue simmering the soup until the barley has cooked through, another 10-20 minutes.

8. Use two forks to shred the chicken into small bite sized pieces.

9. Stir the chicken and pepper into the soup.

Tip: Adjust the soup’s seasoning to your taste with more salt and/or pepper.

10. Transfer the soup to a tureen or individual bowls and garnish with the julienned prunes.

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Filed under Chicken, Main Dishes, Soups

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