Insights
6 min Read
December 30, 2010

Dan’s New Year’s Wish for You: More Beauty

My wish is for all of you to find a little more beauty in your life.

One way to get more beauty is to go to Scotland.

The landscape is stunning (obviously), the people are warm, the music is lively, the whisky is plentiful, and the food is (perhaps surprisingly) delectable.

Since I can’t send each of you to Scotland, I will instead give you a (literal) taste of its beauty. This is a recipe for a classic Scottish soup, called cullen skink.

The Scots don’t always come up with the most appetizing names for their foods. Who’d guess that tablet is a gorgeous, buttery sweet? Or that something called haggis does indeed taste good (offal’s not awful!)?

My wish is for all of you to find a little more beauty in your life. One way to get more beauty is to go to Scotland.  The landscape is stunning (obviously), the people are warm, the music is lively, the whisky is plentiful, and the food is (perhaps surprisingly) delectable. Since I can’t send each of you to Scotland, I will instead give you a (literal) taste of its beauty. This is a recipe for a classic Scottish soup, called cullen skink. The Scots don’t always come up with the most appetizing names for their foods. Who’d guess that tablet is a gorgeous, buttery sweet? Or that something called haggis does indeed taste good (offal’s not awful!)?

Cullen skink is yet another delicious Scottish food that falls into the category of “sounds bleah.” In this case, I can tell you where the name cullen skink comes from. Skink is Scots for soup. This particular soup originated in the town of Cullen. Easy enough. I haven’t looked up where tablet and haggis get their names.

You don’t need a lot of ingredients for a proper cullen skink, but the most important is smoked haddock:  

Smoked haddock isn’t always the easiest thing to find in the United States. But if you live near a shop that sells British or Irish products, someone there might be able to point you in the right direction.

My wife and I are fortunate to live across the street from an Irish butcher (in Queens!), and they are occasionally well stocked with smoked haddock. Their smoked haddock is dyed (hence the orange color), and in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be. But the dye makes no difference to the taste, so don’t let that be a dealbreaker.

You’ll also need onion…  potatoes…  dairy products (butter, milk, cream)…  …and some freshly ground pepper and (perhaps) a little salt.

Like many proper soups and stews, amounts can be estimated. If I’m making cullen skink for a small dinner party (6-10 people), I start with two smoked haddock fillets. I usually then use two large potatoes and one onion (I’ve found that a 2:1 potato-to-onion ratio is ideal).

So… How to make it!

Lay your smoked haddock fillets across a heavy-bottomed pot. Pour enough cold water over the fillets to cover them. The water will become the base for your soup. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, cover the pot and poach the haddock fillets for five minutes.

While that’s going, peel and dice your potatoes and onion. You’ll want them in pretty small pieces.  

Remove the haddock fillets from the water (now a smoky fish “stock”) and allow them to cool (I usually put them in a glass bowl).

Put your potato and onion into the soup pot and return the water to a boil. Boil them for ten minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

Hey, does your whole kitchen/apartment/house smell like smoky fish yet? Isn’t it awesome? How much do your neighbors love you?

Toward the end of the veggie boiling time, you’ll need to flake the haddock fillets. Yes, you could do it with a fork, but I recommend using your fingers. The fillets may not have many bones, but this is your opportunity to pull out the ones that are there. So get your hands right in there and break the fish apart into bite-sized bits. (Don’t yet add it to the soup.)  

After ten minutes of boiling the potatoes and onion, turn the heat down, and toss in a dollop of butter. This is a Scottish soup, nonprofiteers, so don’t fear the butter. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s somewhere between one and two tablespoons of butter. Get a potato masher and mash the butter into the potatoes and onions.

I actually like my cullen skink quite chunky, so I don’t mash too much. In fact, we lost our potato masher, and I make what amounts to a half effort at the mashing, using one of those pastry blender thingies. I just sort of run the pastry blender over the potatoes and onions until the butter is melted.  

Keep the heat on low, as you put the flaked haddock into the pot.

Then add some milk, a few good glugs of it. I’ve never measured this out; I always eyeball it. But for the love of all that is right in this world, please use whole milk.Robbie Burns will turn over in his grave if anything non-fat hits this recipe.

Also, cream. I love cream. I like my cullen skink to be a bit thicker than it is if I just use milk (yes, even whole milk). Cream is theoretically optional, but it will only make it better, so do yourselves a favor and add some cream. I admit that I ended up using that entire half-pint container for my recent batch, and the soup still wasn’t too heavy. In fact, it was awesome.

While that continues to heat up, grind some fresh pepper in there. Be generous. Pepper is the only spice you’ll need, and it’s important.

Pepper is the only spice? What about salt? Well, first of all, it’s not a spice; it’s a mineral. But also, you may not need it. Taste your skink before you add any. Some smoked haddock fillets are already really salty. So only add some salt if your tasting deems it necessary.

Your skink should look a little something like this (although it will be a brighter white color if you’ve managed to get non-dyed smoked haddock fillets).  

As long as it’s hot, there’s no need to let it cook any longer. Feel free to serve immediately. Top it off with some fresh chives, because they’ll add some color and make it look all fancy-pants. And who doesn’t love a fancy-pants soup?

Serve it with whatever you like with your soup. A salad is always nice, as is some bread and cheese (and if you can find a delicious cheddar from Scotland, particularly from the Isle of Orkney, it’ll be a bit of Scottish heaven).

Enjoy your cullen skink!

If, after your cullen skink experience, you’re looking for a well-matched, dairy-based sweet, may I recommend last year’s tablet recipe?

Good luck getting more beauty in your lives in the upcoming year, nonprofiteers. I hope this taste of Scotland helps. And happy New Year!

More ducktastic wishes

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