Smoky Cullen Skink Soup

When the first suggestion of Winter arrives, right in the middle of Autumn, it’s a reminder to gather wood for the fires and adjust the wardrobe and mental outlook for the oncoming cold season. Many Melburnians still have their head in the sand, believing that Australia is a hot place. For six months of the year, it’s cold and inhospitable, with dreary grey skies dominating the landscape, and black dressing de rigeur. Out come the Michelin man garments, those unflattering and un-environmental puffer jackets and vests that work rather well, along with fingerless gloves, berets and warm leggings, umbrellas and wind jackets. I’m not a fan of Winter but in theory, it does have a certain romantic appeal.

A taste of winter.  Southern Cross station, April 10th. Autumn turns mean.

And that appeal centres around soup. Late Autumn soups become thick and creamy, a French purée or perhaps an Italian crema. Lunchtime zuppa del giorno loaded with beans or pulses, is eaten as a piatta unica with crusty bread. Vegetarian shepherds pie makes a comeback, Autumn’s new eggplants feature in rich Turkish fare dressed with Pekmez, and the day might culminate with a sharp cheddar cheese served with whisky laced fig jam, a salty, sweet and peaty treat beside the fire. Served with a single malt of course.

Soup for two in found English bowls.

One of my favourite creamed soups, Cullen Skink, features smoked fish. Cullen is a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland and is well worth a visit, while Skink ( no, not a small lizard) may be derived from soups made with shins or ham bones. There are as many versions of Cullen Skink as there are Scots. Some like it chunky: others, like me, prefer it pureed. The main thing that each recipe has in common is simplicity: potatoes, smoked fish, onions and milk. Once you begin adding fresh fish, or bacon or any other bits and pieces, the soup becomes a chowder.

Cullen Skink, for four servings or two greedy sized servings.

  • I tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
  • 300 ml water
  • 250 g smoked haddock, or mackerel, skin on.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 250 ml milk
  • ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives

In a large heavy based saucepan, sauté the onion and celery till soft. Add the potatoes and cover barely with water. Bring to the boil, lower to medium heat and cook until the potatoes are soft.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, add the milk, smoked fish and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 8 minutes or so while the potatoes are cooking.

Remove the fish from the milk. Skin the fish, carefully remove the flesh, discard all the bones and skin, then strain the milk back into the pot containing the potato. Add the flaked fish. Bring back to high heat. Then puree using a hand-held stick blender. Add more milk or cream to thin a little if you prefer. Reheat,

Add finely chopped parsley or chives to serve, with crusty bread.

* The choice of smoked fish is important. Look for small, dark whole fish, not the supermarket, chemically dyed yellow cod, or smoked salmon or trout, the latter being too mild in flavour. New Zealand readers will have more options as more varieties of smoked fish are readily available in NZ supermarkets and fishmongers.

My everyday sourdough loaves, to serve with soup.

An interesting Guardian article about the ins and outs of Cullen Skink can be found here.

Which season do you prefer? What are your thoughts on Puffer Jackets? Do you like smoked foods?

 

35 thoughts on “Smoky Cullen Skink Soup”

  1. ‘Late autumnal soups’ para so evocatively written Milady, thank you! Have learnt quite a few new facts and am quite eager to try your recipe. A name I had heard about and let slip into the back streets of my mind!! Well, I like things ‘chunky’ so shall know which way to go 🙂 !

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    1. Go the chunky pathway, Madame Ehi, most do. I like being called Milady- very nice and classy too. I was thinking about updating my title to Mistress, ( mister/mistress), and wonder where connotations of being kept, or being a part time lover, may have come from. Not a fan of Missus or Ms, the latter a rather banal contribution by 70s feminism. Why didn’t we all just insist on Miss or Mistress back then!

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      1. *big smile* As long as no one calls me “Ms’ I’ll keep my cool! ‘Milady’ is accompanied by a curtsey you cannot see of course 🙂 !! Have had a 21-day ‘fight-to-the death’ with Telstra just at present and was charmed to make a wonderful Telstra Senior Managerial friend [I mean it!] in Poona [OK – Pune!], India who has kept calling me ‘Ma’am’ all that time! Oh, so much nicer than ‘Hi, Eha’!

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        1. It must be the season for Telstra. I also had a wee battle with that cursed company, and whilst the young Filipino man was gracious and friendly, no actual resolution resulted. Ma’am is also lovely. Dear and love, offered by supermarket cashiers and shopkeepers is definitely not the go. And as for ‘guys’ I won’t even start ( again).

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          1. No resolution here quite either but promises come far-and-wide! At 3-5 daily hours of my ‘precious’ time! Actually mine also involves NBN . . . . oh, do please read up ere you sign up! Enough said !!!!

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    1. Hi Liz, I think we may experience very similar weather patterns. Hot dangerous summers, grey Autumns and Springs. really, any good smoked fish will do, though the emphasis in this soup is on smokiness unlike a chowder where there’s only a hint.

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  2. Speaking of smoked foods I particularly love smoked Hickory bacon (from a packet) found in Woolworths (or supermarkets). It is the best bacon I’ve tasted. Love also smoked salmon on bread with sour cream atop with dill served as hors d’oevres – Francesca will know what I’m talking about, ha ha. The other product I like is smoked Champagne Ham sliced ultra thin in the supermarket and served with Dijon mustard on either fresh bread or toasted. Lastly I like smoked cod served with a white sauce and parsley. First thing to do here though is to desalt it by boiling for ten minutes, pour the water out, then boil again in fresh water and lemon juice until cooked. This is a trick mum taught me. May try the fish soup too.

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    1. I am about to head off to the Preston market to buy some smoked Cod from Shetland. It’s a once a year treat and expensive. No chemical dyes, it is a step above the supermarket version.
      The way I serve Cod on Good Friday is to poach it, not boil it, as it goes tough. I often poach it in milk, gently so there’s hardly a ripple.
      Mum has also become fond of this version from the Shetland Islands and in good years, I manage to get some to her.

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  3. I might try driving to the Preston Market to get some of this special Smoked Cod. Do you twice poach it to get rid of the salt? I meant to say slow simmer actually, not boil it but typed it out without thinking. Yes the water or milk is only to barely cover the cod or not quite. I know the east coast of Scotland is very special for fish. When we were there in 2015 we visited a place on the east coast just south of Edinburgh called South Berwick (shades of West Wyalong if you ask me – West Wyalong being larger than Wyalong itself which is a one-horse town) :). Anyway, in South Berwick we ate the best fish ‘n chips I have ever tasted, cooked fresh in front of you – battered Cod. They explained that it is never frozen first but that it is driven overnight after being caught the same day, from Dundee, Scotland, on the east coast and kept on ice before cooking. No wonder it tasted so good. Maybe Shetland is near Dundee.

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    1. The Shetland Islands are way north of Scotland and the cod from there is superb. all Scottish Cod is rather nice too. The Shetland smoked cod version uses peat in smoking their products and to my palette, it tastes much nicer than the yellow supermarket stuff which is chemically dyed.
      Yes, boiling is such a misleading word and reminds me of the 1950s/60s approach to food, and Nanny’s cooking, an old Irish/ English approach that has fortunately nearly vanished. Poaching is a wonderful term for fish, which is such a delicate meat.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland
      If you go to Preston tomorrow, go early. The market is open all day on Thursday and gets really busy. Only one store stocks this smoked fish – an Australian fishmonger on a corner. It is labelled as Shetland Cod. They run out quickly. I was meant to go today but missed the boat. ( they close at around 1 pm on wednesday.)

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      1. Thanks, I might see you there. I drove to Heidelberg today re my hearing aids and passed Preston😨 on the way but it would have been closed anyway. I think the cold waters of Scotland make it (cod) taste better.

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  4. Winter in Brisbane is divine. The days are warm and sunny and the mornings and evenings are cool…I can wear a shirt with long sleeves! I didn’t own a coat of any description until we bought the apartment in Italy. Now I have a selection, including a couple of puffers. When I visit Helsinki in winter my enormous puffer is dragged out. They are lightweight and very warm so I can overlook the Michelin man comparisons.

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    1. I will be in Pavia and around Lombardia in early November. Should I take a lightweight down filled Puffer coat? Will I be able to maintain a sense of La Bella Figura in such an outfit?

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      1. I think it could be quite cold in November, and possibly wet. A puffer will be in order. Everyone wears them here. In fact many are still weary them while I am in a lightweight shirt in 22 degrees.

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      2. You don’t need to look like the Michelin Man in winter. Kathmandu will keep you looking sleek and we’ll-groomed with their microfibre coats and jackets which are nice and light. Cosy warm without the bulk. Lucky you going to miss winter. I’m off to Vanuatu for 10 days soon with Terry.

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  5. I rather like winter Francesca (even in Canberra) and attempt to do my bit for both style and the environment 🙂 by wearing a lovely hand me down from my mother – an English wool coat from the 1960s.
    I love the sound of that soup – big smoked fish fans here – and will have to see if I can get smoked cod anywhere…

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  6. Enter the 60’s & 70’s: Traditional Good Friday cooking of smoked cod, which was smelt from miles away on the farm, still lingers in our psyche. We (all seven kids) all started to gag at the thought of having to consume his hideous boiled, vile muck served with over-cooked spuds and grey cabbage. Tradition beheld that we all sit at the kitchen table and dare not complain as the Compassion donation box was placed in the middle of the table with forlorn starving African children’s’ faces staring back at us which reflected those much worse off than ourselves. If only our parents knew that when we took those money boxes back to school they were much lighter by many pennies and the occasional thrupence than when they left their position placed strategically near where food or indulgent entertainment was involved. When visiting childless Aunts and Uncles visited our eyes bulged as they loudly dropped loose change into said box and we immediately tallied up how many kangaroo or umbrella toffees on a stick , yard-long licorice straps of triangular frozen Sunnyboys we could buy at the tuck-shop on the next school day. I’m sure tens of thousands of children in Africa died of starvation by we greedy Catholic kids but obligatory confession ultimately absolved us even if we had to lie to the priest to protect our guilt. So now we celebrate Easter by holding a “traditional” Bad Friday by sharing all the amazing regional and seasonal foods abundant in our region. Last week-end was the annual sugarcane and banana plantation pig shoot – sponsored by the local pubs. We bar-hogs waited for hours until the slaughtered swine were unceremoniously chucked off the blood-splatted Utes by the shooters whose faces were akin to orgasmic stimuli at the thought of winning the $25 stake. The weigh-in is a serious event all greased with gallons of booze and much humourous joshing . However, those of us on the peripheral could only see that these beasts can’t possibly go to waste and commence bartering for the whole hog. My point being is that this Bad Friday’s fare is a 57 kilo pig on a spit to be shared with all the local collapsed Catholics, a few bevvies and lots of stories about how we all ended up in the wonderful wet tropics of Far North Queensland – and not a hot-cross bun in sight. Ahh! Bliss!!

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  7. I miss winter in Melb, a good excuse not to wear a puffer jacket, but woollen coat, scarf, gloves, long boots, all in black, all flattering to my natural Michelin man shape. I also miss soup weather. Still high 20s by day here although the nights are beginning to cool. I haven’t seen smoked haddock here and smoked mackerel is as rare as hen’s teeth, cheaper to fly to Scotland! Delicious memories, thanks.

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    1. So sad that good smoked fish is absent from up North. I remember you once blogged a good Cullen soup. As we’re off to Scotland in August, ( then France and Italy) Scottish soups have been on my mind.
      The puffer jacket will be acquired for the trip, since they fold down into tiny bags- no room for coats and boots.

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    1. I was pleased to discover that most Italians love puffer jackets too so I won’t feel out of place later this year when in cold Italy. More smoked fish has come our way today, via Shetland, for Easter. I’ve always been envious of the smoked goods in New Zealand- the smoked mussels from Coramandel, smoked Tarakihi, ( a word I can never pronounce correctly) and other smoked goodies that seem to tune up in your shops. Not fair.

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      1. We are watching a movie at the moment called “Don’t Look Now”, with Julie Christie & Donald Sutherland. It’s an old movie, 1970’s I think, and so much of it is based in Venice. It’s lovely to hear Italian spoken and to see so much of Venice even though the movie is spooky. Anyway, buy your Puffer Jacket because everyone else will look humungous and tubby, nooooo! I did buy some Smoked Cod yesterday but got lazy and just bought at `La Manna` around the corner in Essendon Fields. I will poach in milk this time. Should be delicious of the Easter period. Anyway HAPPY EASTER!

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  8. I’ve learned -with the years adding to my age and commonsense- never say never with apparel… I’ve found by necessity some items I said I’d never wear I have and do because they are practical. I now happily wear thongs, joggers, over vests and under singlets on occasion 😞
    Ms has suited me as it fills inbetween the Miss and Mrs which I have alternated for a good part of my life… and conveniently & briefly indicates my gender necessitated by my either/or first & middle names.
    Smoked or otherwise if it’s fish I’ll eat eat but I’m a bit fussy on the how and what with of the smoking not satisfied with name and flavour only but by process.
    Filing soup for something to look forward to for when the weather cools off as it inevitably will.

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    1. Yes, its a big question when it comes to smoking fish.
      Having finally viewed the 2nd series of Outlander, I am more convinced than ever that Mistress is the way to go. During my working life I was always Ms. I don’t like Mrs at all. I would be quite happy with Signora ( male Signore) which has no indication of married status but are simply gendered titles. A bit like actor/actress, I feel that Mister/Mistress makes sense.

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