Scottish Cock a Leekie Soup the Old-Fashioned Way

The name is pretty self explanatory – chicken and leeks in this soup! The name however doesn’t mention the prunes that seem to be added in some of the recipes. They do give it a bit of a weird taste, however it is totally up to the individual to add or leave out the prunes.

Traditionally the Scots would make the soup with an older bird that had more flavor. It may also have been a way to use up the leftovers of the Sunday roast as some recipes call for the chicken to be roasted.

Other recipes call for the chicken to be lightly fried in a pan for about 5 to 7 minutes to give it a golden color and other recipes suggest simply boiling the chicken. Do whichever is easier for you!

My mom’s family is from Edinburgh, and the recipe below is the way she made the soup for our family. Scottish housewives were not trying to be master chefs.

They made delicious wholesome meals to feed the family with what was on hand, so recipes for cock-a-leekie soup may vary in color from pale fawn to greenish – depending on if the housewife used older or younger leeks, to a more robust golden color if the chicken was roasted.

Sometimes, sausage or beef was added to extend the soup and then the color would be a richer brown.

I like the version my mom used to make that allows for the flavor of the chicken and leeks to come through without the beef or sausage overpowering them.

Whether you add barley or potatoes is a personal preference and may depend on what you have at hand. Add barley to thicken the soup, or if you have fresh potatoes peel and cut them into chunks and add to the mix, or for a smoother texture mash the potatoes before stirring them in.

Scotland with its misty weather and cold winds that blow across the highlands is a country conducive to a soup kept ready on the hearth so when people come in wet and cold they have hot soup to warm them from the inside, and the bowl to warm their hands on.

Recipes for cock-a-leekie appear to originate from around the 16th Century – but that was probably when they were first written down – the highlanders had likely been making it way before that.

Cock-a-leekie soup

Scottish Cock a Leekie Soup Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs or 2 large legs – drumstick and thigh
  • 2 large leeks
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¾ cup barley or 1 large potato cut in small chunks

Instructions

  1. Add chicken pieces to a large saucepan with 4 cups of water, the bay leaf, and the thyme.
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer until cooked through - about 20 minutes. Chicken simmering in broth
  3. Remove the chicken pieces and allow to cool in a bowl until the meat can be taken off the bone.
  4. Keep the chicken stock in the saucepan.
  5. Add the barley or potato and 1½ cups of water to a different saucepan and bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Boiling the barley
  6. Cut the leeks in rounds and add to the saucepan with the chicken stock.
    Photo 4 Leeks and carrot ready to add
  7. Grate the carrot and add to the saucepan. Chicken broth with leeks, carrot and barley underneath
  8. As soon as you have done this add in the barley or potatoes from the other saucepan – water and all.
  9. Add the shredded chicken meat.
  10. Allow to simmer for a further 10 minutes until barley/potatoes and leeks are tender.
  11. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  12. Chop flat leaf parsley or cilantro leaves.
  13. Serve the soup with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or cilantro.

Notes

You may want to serve with some Dutch oven bread.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 300
cock-a-leekie soup pin
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