Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Just when we thought cold evenings and chilly mornings were behind us, the weather has turned brisk in DC.  Luckily, I froze a container of Cock-a-Leekie soup from a batch I made during the winter.  Amazingly addictive, this soup is a great weekend one-dish supper and freezes well.  It has a few steps, but the result is well worth the effort.  

cock-a-leekie soup in bowl

Cock-a-Leekie is Scottish in origin; the earliest written recipe dates from 1598.  Typically its main ingredients are meat or chicken, leeks, and prunes – with variations on the spices and extras.  These days the soup is served on the Scottish national holiday, St. Andrew’s Day, the birthday of Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, and a winter solstice holiday called Hogamanay.  

While I’m not Scottish, I may have to start celebrating one or more of those days.  Imagine Cock-a-Leekie soup on a cold evening, with ale, and dark bread, followed gingerbread and whipped cream for dessert.  After dinner, perhaps a bit of good whiskey and Burns poetry or Scottish music too! 

This recipe is from Elizabeth Schneider’s authoritative Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, a fabulous resource, especially if you’re inclined, as I am, to buy interesting looking vegetables and then wonder when you get home exactly what you’ve got or how to cook it. (Elizabeth is a friend, but that isn't why I recommend her book.  I have spent many enjoyable hours pouring through this treasure and refer to it often for information and recipes.)

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Servings – 6 as a main course  Cost – $17.50 pot / $3 per serving

Reprinted with permission from Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, with my equipment list and cost information, plus notes in italics. 

Ingredients

cock-a-leekie soup ingredients
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 quarts chicken broth (or a mixture of chicken and vegetable broths) –  I used a combination of store-bought chicken broth and homemade vegetable broth
  • 3 celery stalks with leaves, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 (whole) chicken, about 3½ pounds (If the idea of cutting meat off a whole chicken freaks you out, buy one cut up or use the equivalent weight of assorted chicken pieces.)
  • 2½ pounds of leeks (5 medium leeks)
  • ½ cup pearled barley
  • ½ tablespoon curry powder (Equivalent to 1½ teaspoons.  This amount is approximate and may need to be adjusted if your curry is particularly hot or mild.) 
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if broth is salted)
  • 12 pitted prunes, halved
  • About 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup minced parsley and/or celery leaves 

Equipment

cock-a-leekie soup equipment
  • Cutting board
  • 2 knives – small and med/large
  • Vegetable peeler
  • 2 bowls
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup  (½ cup size)
  • 2 large spoons (one with holes or slits)
  • Large pot
  • Strainer

 

Preparation

  • Peel and slice 1 parsnip.  Combine with broth, celery, and bay leaves in pot large enough to hold all ingredients.  Boil gently, covered, 15 minutes.
starting cock-a-leekie soup cooking
dicing parsnip for cock-a-leekie soup

Meanwhile peel and dice the other parsnip. 

  • If your chicken is whole, check for a bag of giblets inside the chicken. You can add the giblets to the soup with the whole chicken (after removing them from the bag), but remember to take them out and discard with the vegetables after the simmer stage.  Add chicken to broth and return to a boil.  Reduce heat and barely simmer, covered, ½ hour, turning once.  Transfer chicken to cutting board.  (Carefully lift the whole chicken or pieces with the 2 spoons, letting broth go back into pot before you move the chicken.)  Remove vegetables from broth; discard.  Skim fat.  (I didn’t find any fat to skim.)
  • Trim roots and damaged or very tough leaves from leeks.
2012-04-11 cock-a-leekie leeks.jpg

Halve leeks lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch slices.

2012-04011 cock-a-leekie soup leeks cut.jpg

Wash in several changes of water.  Add to broth, with diced parsnip, barley curry, allspice, and salt.  Simmer, covered, until barley is tender and leeks are meltingly soft, about 40 minutes.

2012-04-11 cock-a-leekie soup veggies cooking.jpg
  • Meanwhile, skin and bone chicken.  Cut meat into small pieces.                                           
2012-04-11 cock-a-leekie soup cutting chicken.jpg

Add chicken to soup, with prunes.  

2012-04-11 cock-a-leekie soup prunes  cut up chicken.jpg

Simmer until prunes are puffed and soft, usually just a few minutes if using the moist-style ones.  Add Worcestershire to taste.  Season.  Stir in parsley and celery leaves.      

2012-04-11 cock-a-leekie soup cutting parsley.jpg
2012-04-11 cock-a-leekie soup done.jpg
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