The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Skink in Cullen

One of the things that fascinate me the most are the names of dishes. They don't simply describe what you are eating but tell you how they are cooked, where they come from, who was behind their original recipe. Most Scottish dishes have ancient origins - despite many of you  probably think there are no culinary traditions there! 

And a lot of the names derived from Gaelic give something magical and distant. 

Autumn has made its appearance and a blanket of multi-coloured leaves have carpeted the road just outside the cottage. However, to my surprise, the weather has been really good. And so a day at the beach could not be missed. The sun is still warm enough to sit on a bench and doze off wrapped up by a pleasant touch. 

The entire northern coast of Aberdeenshire reminds me a bit of Norfolk - if you look at the map it even has the same shape and position. Rough coasts, sandy beaches, and tiny fishing villages make the landscape. Not many people probably live there but complete peace seems to reign. 



In my wanderings of the Scottish coast I have discovered a wonderful soup. Thick and filling with a gentle taste of haddock and potatoes it fills you up without overpowering you. Skink apparently means "knuckle of beef"  which seems to have developed the secondary meaning of soup (supposedly  originally made of beef). The word remained and started being used for any type of soup, including the fishy one that we tasted in Cullen, a hamlet tucked away along the Moray coast. 

I suspected that "skink" may have also been given to refer to the smell - to my surprise when I reproduced the dish in my wee kitchen there was no stink! Possibly because of the special haddock I used,  Arbroath smokies; they are still treated in the same way as they were during the last century- smoked in halved barrels with fires underneath trapping the smoke under layers and layers of hessian sacks, a local variety of barley.

The recipe is really easy and you could compare it to an American chowder. However, I think it has a very special taste - or perhaps it's the air and the smell that surrounded me that made me love it particularly!

For 4 people

For the fish stock

2 tbsp olive oil
100g chopped white vegetables like leeks and onion
100ml dry white wine
2 Arbroath smokies (or smoked haddock), roughly chopped

For the soup

20g unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
100g leek  finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed then finely chopped
200g waxy potatoes, boiled until tender then peeled
2 Arbroath smokies, skin and bones removed
100ml whole milk
100ml double cream
freshly ground black pepper

Put the oil into a heavy saucepan and heat; then add the vegetables and stir well to coat with the oil. Cover and sweat over a low heat for about ten minutes; do not allow them to colour. Take the lid off the pan and pour in the white wine. Boil for one minute. Now add 1.2 litres of water and the smokies.

 Bring up almost to the boil; then skim well. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 20 minutes. Allow to cool. Once cold, strain the stock through a very fine sieve, preferably lined with a double layer of muslin. 

To make the soup, put a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the butter and, when melted, add the shallots, leek and garlic. Cover and sweat for 5-10 minutes, but don't allow the vegetables to colour.

Add the cooked potatoes. Flake the smokies and add to the pan. Cover and sweat for a further two minutes, then add 1 litre of the reserved stock and season with freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour the mixture into a blender and put on the lid. Take the stopper out of the hole in the lid and cover the hole with a tea towel to stop the hot mix splattering. Blend for a few seconds; then gradually add the milk and cream through the hole. 

When the milk and cream is all added and the mixture is smooth, pass through a fine sieve to give a fine, velvety texture.

Serve with flakes of the remaining smokie and garnish with chopped chives or parsley. 



The weather will change soon and days will get shorter and shorter - the perfect excuse to lie in bed for a few more minutes to enjoy the warmth of the covers, and to prepare a steaming soup to warm up the house!


  1. Wonderful photos, as always! Went to check the other ones on the Flickr account and they are great! Well done!

  2. Many thanks! The atmosphere there is truly beautiful!

  3. What a nice recipe. Perfect for chilly autumn weekends. What can you do if you can't find Arbroath smokies? Would kippers do instead?

  4. In answer to the above question, I don't think you can, as Arbroath Smokies are haddock and Kippers are herrings.

    Rosemary Manning

  5. Yes I agree - unless you come up with a new soup! Let me know if you do. Experiments are always good in the kitchen! :D

  6. I am not sure that all experiments are such a good idea...