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Recipe: Cock-a-leekie Soup (for the Soul)

  18 Jan '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn
Illustration by Bob Dewar from The Scottish Soup Bible

Chicken soup is a global panacea. So much so, in fact, that it’s given its name to a whole self-help franchise, Chicken Soup for the Soul. Warming, nourishing, hearty but not too heavy – soup is just the thing for these grey January days. Cock-a-leekie soup, moreover, is also the traditional starter for a Burns Night feast, and while we may not be able to entertain in the usual fashion, no excuse is required for a good meal!

Our recipe comes from The Scottish Soup Bible by Sue Lawrence, a tiny book bursting with flavour. Here’s what she has to say about its chicken component:

Hailed by many as Scotland’s other national soup (Scotch Broth holds that accolade) it never ceases to amaze me how such a delicious soup can be made from so few ingredients. I like to serve the soup in bowls and the chicken on a separate platter (ashet) for the cook to carve at table, and the pieces then dropped into the soup as required. Alternatively, the cook can do the chopping of the flesh in the kitchen and replace it in the soup to reheat just before serving. The main thing is to avoid overcooking the chicken, otherwise it becomes tough.
Traditional recipes recommend simmering for 4 hours, then serving at once. I like to cook the chicken for a far shorter time, leaving it to cool in the stock before reheating the bird either whole or in pieces. I also discard the rather slimy green parts of the leeks and replace them with the white parts of the leek, which are cooked until just done. The prunes are essential to elevate this soup from simply a chicken and leek soup to a traditional Scottish soup. They add both sweetness and colour.

Ingredients

Serves 6
1 small free-range chicken (1.1–1.2kg)
6 long, thick leeks, trimmed
10–12 black peppercorns
12–16 stoned prunes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Method

Place the chicken in a large saucepan. Halve and wash the leeks well and cut off the green parts. Chop these
roughly and add to the pan with the peppercorns and enough water to just cover – about 2 litres. Bring slowly
to the boil, then cover and simmer, with the lid on, for about 25–30 minutes. Switch off the heat, cover tightly
and leave for at least an hour.
Then use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken as well as the leeks, which can be discarded. Add the chopped leek whites and the prunes and bring the broth to the boil again. Cook for about 10 minutes until just
done.
If you are serving the chicken whole, return it to the soup pan for the last 5 minutes or so, to warm through.
Otherwise, chop the chicken flesh into pieces and add these to the soup. Add plenty of salt and pepper to taste
and serve with chopped parsley sprinkled over it.

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