Today is Burns Night – the celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns night is rich with traditions, many of them edible: it requires Graces, toasts, replies, and addresses (including one to the haggis, which should, properly, be piped in on bagpipes, but also lots of whisky, the haggis itself, neeps, tatties, more whisky, and often something sweet and traditionally Scottish like cranachan. I love all of them, but there’s a special place in my heart and at my table for cullen skink. Cullen skink, as well as having one of the most pleasing names in culinary history, is a thick potato-based haddock soup, and is one of the most popular soups for the opening soup course on Burns Night.
The soup comes from Cullen, a coastal town in Moray, in the North East of Scotland, which is also home to the finnan haddie, a cold-smoked haddock using green wood and peat, and technically the correct fish to use for cullen skink. But as its popularity grew, undyed smoked haddock was routinely used by those who couldn’t source the authentic fish – and that’s what I’ve used here.
It’s one of my favourite soups: smokey and creamy, rich and punchy. Cooking the fish in milk to create the base of the soup packs a real depth of flavour into the dish, and reserving some of the haddock to flake through makes the most of the fantastic fish.
Makes: Serves four
Takes: 25 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
500g smoked haddock
1 pint whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 floury potatoes
Swirl of Cream
1. Put the milk, bay leaf and haddock into a large pan, and bring slower to a simmer. Using a fish slice or slotted spoon, carefully remove the haddock and set to one side. Discard the bay leaf.
2. Roughly chop the onion and potatoes, and slice the leek. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and leek, cover and cook over a low heat until soft but not coloured, about ten minutes. Add the potato to the frying pan, stirring just to coat it in the butter, and then add the onion, leek and potatoes to the milk.
3. Simmer the veg in the milk until the potato is tender and will squish beneath a spoon: this will take 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
4. Flake the cooked haddock, and return half of it the pan. Using an immersion blender, or ladling batches into a food processor, blitz the soup until smooth and thick. Stir through the rest of the flaked haddock, and serve, topping the soup with chopped chives and a swirl of cream.