Cockaleekie Soup

As noted in the previous post, it is likely that it was Scotland’s French allies who introduced the leek into Scotland — at very least, the French encouraged their use in Scottish recipes. Probably the most well-known use of leeks in Scotland is the country’s famous cockaleekie soup.

Cockaleekie soup would traditionally be served as a soup course, with the chicken removed and served later, probably after the haggis. However, I like the more recent, semi-traditional versions that can, with the addition of salad and bread, be a whole meal. (Also, traditionally, you’d be boiling an old fighting cock with its head and feet still on—so I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed that this has been updated.)

The addition of prunes is an item of controversy–some see them as immutable tradition, others view them as pollutants. I like the vaguely wine-like undertones they give the broth. You can make your own decision. If you opt for prunes, you need to use ones that still have their pits; if the prune has been pitted, the insides dissolve and make the broth muddy. Though I add prunes while cooking, and enjoy eating them myself, I recommend leaving them in the pot if serving this dish to guests, since a pit can be an unwelcome surprise in the midst of feasting.

This is the sort of dish that will warm you when you’ve been striding through those highland mists — or raking the leaves or shoveling snow. Boil up a pot, put on a bagpipe recording, and enjoy.

1 chicken (3-1/2 to 4-1/2 lbs)
8-10 large leeks
2 14-1/2 oz. cans chicken broth
2 14-1/2 oz. cans beef broth
2-1/2 quarts water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 cup barley
12 whole prunes (with pits)

Wash the leeks thoroughly, checking for hidden pockets of sand. Slice the whites and 2 or 3 inches of the green stems (staying well clear of the leaves) into 1/2-inch rounds.

Wash the chicken inside and out under cold running water. Remove and discard any chunks of fat from the cavity, and place the chicken in a 10- to 12-quart pot. Pour in the broth and water and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming the foam and scum that rise to the surface. When scum stops forming, add the leeks, salt, pepper, and thyme, and reduce heat to low.

Partially cover the pot and simmer for 2 hours. Add the barley and simmer for an additional 1/2 hour. Add the prunes, and simmer for another 1/2 hour. By this time, the chicken will be almost falling apart. Transfer it to a platter (carefully). With a large spoon, skim as much fat as possible from the surface of the soup.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Pull all the meat from the bones, and cut it into small pieces, then return it to the soup. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes to heat the meat through, then taste the soup for seasoning.

This makes about 4-1/2 quarts of soup. When serving, chopped parsley is the most common garnish. This soup freezes well.

Notes: If your chicken is packed with giblets, and most are, you can (if you like them) add all giblets EXCEPT the liver, to the soup. Three different sources underscore the necessity of leaving it out. When cooked for this long, liver kind of dissolves, so it would make the soup “muddy” looking and tasting.

Also, if the prunes are moist and plump, they can go straight into the pot. If they’re dry and hard, soak them in hot water for 1/2 an hour before adding them to the soup.

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Filed under culinary history, Food, Recipes

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