Search
Close this search box.

The Timeless Tradition of Cock-a-Leekie Soup

17/06/2024

An exclusive Larder Piece by Mary Callater

This month we are going to discover, well I should say you are going to discover, Cock-a-leekie soup. This is a famous Scottish dish, and it’s renowned for having graced tables rich and poor for centuries! I’ve even heard it referred to as “Scotland’s national soup”. To be fair there are a few contenders for this title. In summary, it’s a hearty and comforting concoction of leeks, chicken, and rice (or barley). I feel it’s a true embodiment of Scottish culinary heritage, it has a rich history that you can trace all the way back to the 16th century. Because of that heritage, I thought you would be interested to learn a bit more about the history. Researching this certainly increased my appreciation of the dish.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

Why? Free to subscribe, no paywall, daily business news digest.

Origins and Historical Context

The origins of cock-a-leekie soup can be traced back to France. It probably began life as a simple chicken and onion soup. But, by the late 16th century, the recipe had found its way to Scotland, (Scotland and France have many close historical connections – food being one of them) where leeks replaced the onions, giving birth to the distinct flavour profile known today.

I did some research on this for you, and I found that the first recorded mention of it was in 1598, when a Mr Fynes Morrison wrote about a soup made by boiling fowls and prunes, served at a Knights’ dinner. Since that Knight’s dinner which I would have loved to experience, various permutations and combinations of ingredients have been explored. Prunes became a common addition to enhance the dish’s nutritional value and provide a subtle sweetness. But by the 18th century, the name “cock-a-leekie” had become widely used, and the soup had firmly established itself as a staple in Scottish cuisine. Its popularity grew, and it became a traditional offering at traditional Scottish celebrations such as Burns’ Suppers and St. Andrews Night Dinners. So that’s some heritage for a dish, and all the more reason for you to cherish my recipe.

I love history almost as much as I love food. I was fascinated when I came across this little anecdote relating to the famous French statesman Talleyrand. He famously suggested that prunes should be removed before serving, allegedly spurring furious debate on the subject. In any case, after I had heard that story I had to go an make some Cock a Leekie for Sunday dinner and the thought of Monsieur Talleyrand enjoying his soup definitely added to my appreciation of it. Incidentally, Talleyrand is famous for this saying you may have come across: “Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.” If you don’t know already what he was referring

to, you may be amused to learn that he was talking about coffee. Now I can relate to that too!

Preparing a Timeless Delight

I imagine that my historical references and clear admiration for this soup have you primed for the recipe, `So let’s dive in. To prepare this classic dish, the traditional method involves boiling a whole chicken or chicken parts with leeks in order to create a deeply flavoured stock. The chicken is then removed, and the broth is strained before adding the remaining ingredients, such as rice or barley. Then you simmer until tender. The final touch is the addition of shredded chicken meat, which is returned to the pot, creating a hearty and satisfying meal.

Here is my recipe, and I thoroughly hope you enjoy using it.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup Recipe

Ingredients

· 1 small whole chicken (approx. 1.3 lb) or 1 kg chicken legs/thighs (bone-in)

· 4 large leeks

· 4 large carrots

· 2 sticks of celery

· 2 bay leaves

· 1 onion (optional)

· 120g long grain rice or basmati rice

· Salt and white pepper (or black pepper)

· 2.5 liters of cold water (approximately)

· A handful of dried prunes (optional)

· Fresh parsley (optional for garnish)

Instructions

Step 1: Prepare the Stock

1. Chop the Vegetables: Cut the green parts off the leeks and place them in the bottom of a large pot. Add the celery sticks, two carrots, onion (if using), and bay leaves.

2. Add the Chicken: Place the whole chicken or chicken legs/thighs on top of the vegetables.

3. Season and Add Water: Add liberal amounts of salt and white pepper. Pour cold water over the top, ensuring it covers the chicken.

4. Cook the Chicken: Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about one hour, or until the chicken is fully cooked and the juices run clear when pierced.

Step 2: Prepare the Soup

1. Remove the Chicken: Take the chicken out of the pot and set it aside to cool slightly. Remove the green parts of the leeks, onion, celery, and carrots from the pot.

2. Add Vegetables and Rice: Chop the whites of the leeks into rounds and the remaining two carrots into small pieces. Add them to the pot and cook for 10 minutes. Then, add the rice and simmer for an additional 15 minutes until the rice is cooked.

3. Shred the Chicken: Remove the chicken meat from the bones, shred it, and discard the bones.

4. Combine and Season: Return the shredded chicken to the pot. Taste the stock and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary. Simmer for a few more minutes to heat through.

Step 3: Serve

1. Optional Prunes: If using prunes, chop them and sprinkle a few over the top of each serving for a touch of sweetness.

2. Garnish: Optionally, garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

3. Serve: Ladle the soup into bowls and enjoy!

Notes

· Variations: You can substitute the rice with barley or potatoes if preferred. Some recipes also include bacon or use chicken stock instead of water for a richer flavor.

· Prunes: Adding prunes is traditional in some recipes and adds a subtle sweetness to the soup.

This recipe combines traditional methods with modern conveniences, ensuring a flavourful and hearty dish that honours the Scottish culinary traditio

The latest stories

Scotland Food & Drink Partnership Launches Net Zero Handbook

In a significant stride towards sustainability, the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership has launched a comprehensive Net Zero Handbook, unveiled

Buchanan Galleries Welcomes ‘Bubbly’ New Drinks Brand, Bubble CiTea

Fans of popular bubble tea drinks will now be able to enjoy their favourite combinations and flavours as Bubble CiTea

Glengoyne Launches New White Oak Range

Glengoyne, a renowned Scottish whisky distillery, has unveiled its latest innovation: the White Oak range. This new collection marks a

Traditional Scottish Shortbread: A Simple Yet Delicious Treat

Scottish shortbread is a beloved classic that has been enjoyed for centuries. With its rich, buttery flavour and crumbly texture,

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

Why? Free to subscribe, no paywall, daily business news digest.