Seasonal local food recipe No.128: Cullen skink

Ever since coming to live in Cornwall I’ve encountered few homegrown Cornish fish soup recipes.

This is disappointing, as my Scottish upbringing means I LOVE soup. I make vast quantities of it from the contents of my weekly veg box.

So this week’s local food recipe is a type of chowder named after the small town of Cullen on the Moray Firth in Scotland. My thoughts always stray towards this hearty soup-stew in the cold dark days between New Year and Burns Night on 25 January.

It’s traditionally made with Finnan haddie (unboned cold-smoked haddock from Findon near Aberdeen).

In the absence of Finnan haddie, make sure you buy pale straw-coloured undyed smoked haddock – not that nasty yellow stuff you get in supermarkets. And of course use the leeks, onions and potatoes from this week’s vegetable box.

This version of Cullen skink, from Felicity Cloake’s series How to cook perfect in the Guardian, is as near as you’ll get to the real thing. For the purists among you, leave out the leek.

Skink, by the way, is an old Scots term for soup or broth. It comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “essence” apparently.

Serves 6

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking time: around 30 minutes

500g undyed smoked haddock, skin on
A bay leaf
Knob of butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 leek, washed and cut into chunks
2 medium potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks
500ml whole milk
Chives or parsley, chopped, to serve


Put the fish into a pan large enough to hold it comfortably, and cover with about 300ml cold water. Add the bay leaf, and bring gently to the boil. By the time it comes to the boil, the fish should be just cooked – if it’s not, then give it another minute or so. Remove from the pan, and set aside to cool. Take the pan off the heat.

Melt the butter in another pan on a medium-low heat, and add the onion and the leek. Cover and allow to sweat, without colouring, for about 10 minutes until softened. Season with black pepper.

Add the potato and stir to coat with butter. Pour in the haddock cooking liquor and bay leaf, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potato is tender.

Meanwhile, remove the skin, and any bones from the haddock, and break into flakes.

Lift out a generous slotted spoonful of potatoes and leeks, and set aside. Discard the bay leaf. Add the milk, and half the haddock to the pan, and either mash roughly or blend until smoothish.

Season to taste, and serve with a generous spoonful of the potato, leek and haddock mixture in each bowl, and a sprinkling of parsley or chives.

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