Cullen Skink (Smoked Haddock Soup)

Cullen Skink or Scottish Smoked Haddock Soup

Don’t ask me why, but I’m needing a fix of my favourite warming Scottish recipes.  I think it’s since we celebrated Christmas with the family in Scotland and now that the winter frost has finally arrived in Paris and the heather is growing madly in the garden, it seems appropriate to add a touch of Scotland to the January table.

When I asked our local fishmonger in St Germain-en-Laye for some smoked haddock on Friday, this lovely French lady behind me in the queue suddenly asked me what I did with it.  Well, this may be a mad about macarons site, but I also love my savouries!  So, this is for you, chère Madame, as I promised you the recipe.  You can also make delicious smoked fish cakes with it too.

Why the name, “Cullen Skink”?

It’s hard to take a sexy photo of a bowl of soup but also, why the name, Cullen Skink? Skink is old Scots for soup or an essence; Cullen is a small fishing village on the Moray Firth on the North-East coast of Scotland, where haddock is particularly popular.  You could say that their staple diet of this thick soup, traditionally using local potatoes and onions, caught on to the net fast…

cullen skink ingredients

It’s a soup that’s so simple to make with little ingredients and yet it’s often served in posh Scottish restaurants or at formal Scottish dinners, such as for Saint Andrew’s or Burn’s Night.

I’ve been bowled over to discover that French friends find it an impressive dish served as a starter. It’s perhaps not just the comforting thickness and creaminess of the soup but the smoky fragrance just gives it that something extra special.  I’ll also let you in to a fishy secret: I serve small to medium-sized portions of this to start the meal, leaving friends wanting just a bit more.

Recipes for Cullen Skink vary. In Scottish restaurants, I’ve had light versions but overloaded with cubes of potato with not much fish.  I’ve also had extra thick versions, loaded with rich cream that by the time the main dish arrived, I’d had my fill.

My favourite way of making this has been a mix of many different approaches: I simply poach the fish in semi-skimmed milk and use no cream – and no water either – and half blitz it with the hand mixer until smooth and creamy, but still with the bits in it.  Purists may scream at me but I make it using a leek (I’m on a leek roll just now – be warned for many leek recipes coming!) but if you prefer to make Cullen Skink the traditional way, use an onion instead.

Smoked Haddock in French

Ideally traditional Scottish recipes call for Finnan haddock or undyed smoked haddock fillets.  As it’s not that easy to find them in France, I take the only smoked haddock I can find, which is simply called “Haddock“. Each time years ago, when I called it Haddock Fumé with my Jane Birkin accent, I was corrected. So, just saying.

Just for the record, if you want plain unsmoked haddock in France, it’s known as Eglefin, otherwise any good smoked fish will be good for Cullen Skink if you can’t find the real McCoy.