Cocked-up-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-a-leekie soupCock-a-leekie, cock-a-leekie, cock-a-leekie: it’s too much fun to say! Have you ever had cock-a-leekie soup? It’s a traditional Scottish soup, made of chicken stock, leeks and little else (except prunes. Ew.). Despite many business trips to Edinburgh in my past, and the fact that I am of Scottish descent (my maternal grandfather emigrated from Glasgow), I’ve never had it. If I had ever seen it on a restaurant menu, I probably would have ordered it (despite the prunes; ew), just so I could say “cock-a-leekie” a few times in a bad Scottish brogue. ‘Cause I’m cool like that.

Back in the ’90’s, there was a time when I went to Scotland quite frequently. In fact, I used to do a 4-day run from Boston to Heathrow to Leeds to Harrogate to Edinburgh to Heathrow and back home to Boston. There were labs in both Harrogate and Edinburgh conducting studies for my company; I would fly over to inspect critical phases, review data or procedures, and generally be wined & dined by my study directors. But since I am the pickiest-food-blogger-on-the-planet, and since the Scots really do eat every part of the animal (pretty sure nose-to-tail was invented in Scotland), I told them that I was a vegetarian (which was a lot easier than explaining that I ate chicken and pork, but not beef, or seafood, or game meats, or organ meats, or tripe, or for the love of all that’s holy, haggis.). Nigel and Stuart, my long-suffering study directors, hated it. Usually when a client came to visit, they would get steak or prime rib or lobster: something fancy for lunch. When I came? Mushroom casserole. Every time. (Did I mention that I’m not a mushroom fan? Sigh.)

So, cock-a-leekie soup. (Cock-a-leekie. Cock-a-leekie. Cock-a-leekie. Go on: it’s fun.) I don’t know why it popped into my head. I called for some ideas for using up the rest of the dancing chicken meat, since Tai was out of town and I wouldn’t be able to polish it off by myself. I got lots of good ideas, but in typical fashion, I ignored them all and out of the blue Googled “cock a leekie soup.” I wasn’t even sure what was in it: I mean, I thought it had leeks. But who knows? Maybe “leekie” was wacky Scottish slang for goat eyeballs. (We won’t even go into what “cock” could mean.). But no: Mr. Google informed me that cock-a-leekie soup is actually made of chicken and leeks. Chicken and leeks that happened to be sitting in my fridge, whispering cock-a-leekie, cock-a-leekie, cock-a-leekie every time I opened the door.

Mr. Google also informed me that, like every other simple, traditional dish, each cook has their own version of cock-a-leekie soup. Some are very basic, with just stock, coarsely chopped leeks, a bit of chicken and prunes. (Yes, I know they are simply dried plums. And that they have a branding problem. But prunes in soup? Ew.) Some are distinctly chefy, with roasted chicken, fresh vegetables and clarified chicken stock. Some include rice or barley or even streaky bacon(!), and yet others are basically a hearty chicken stew with prunes. (Ew.) Suffice it to say, there are as many versions of cock-a-leekie as there are chefs who enjoy saying “cock-a-leekie.” I felt no compunction then in making my own cocked-up version: traditional Scottish soup by way of Morocco.

With leeks sautéed in butter, simmered with Basmati rice and homemade stock, then finished with chicken, preserved lemon and Aleppo pepper, this would hardly be considered traditional Scottish fare. (Besides – no prunes!) But it should be considered lovely. The preserved lemon imparts a bright, funky, salty flavor to the broth, the Aleppo pepper gives it just the right hint of exotic spice, and the whole thing is surprisingly delicious for what is basically boiled leeks and a bit of leftover chicken. Frugal, unfussy and surprisingly delicious: perhaps it is Scottish, after all.

Adapted from Cock-a-Leekie Soup, a Traditional Scottish Recipe from Rampant Scotland

Cock-a-leekie soupCocked-up-a-Leekie Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 large leeks (about 1 lb), trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise and washed well, then thinly sliced crosswise, white & green parts divided
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 quart chicken stock, homemade
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 oz (a scant 1/3 cup) white rice
  • about 1/2 lb cooked chicken meat, slivered
  • 1/2 of a preserved lemon, pulp scraped off and peel minced
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • large handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

METHODS

  1. In a medium (5 quart) Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foam subsides. Add leeks, white parts only, stir and reduce heat to low. Sauté until lightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add rice, raise heat to medium and stirring, cook for 1 minute. Add stock, water and green parts of the leeks. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. 
  2. Add chicken, preserved lemon and Aleppo pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is warmed through and flavors have had time to blend, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed (if you can get to it, the funky salt at the bottom of the lemon jar is excellent here). Serve hot, liberally garnished with fresh parsley and, if you like, additional Aleppo pepper.

Serves 6.

Cock-a-leekie soupOPTIONS

  1. Traditional cock-a-leekie soup recipes vary, somewhat wildly, but the key ingredients appear to be chicken stock, leeks and prunes. Some recipes add onion, celery, carrots; others call for bay leaf or bouquet garni; some call for barley instead or rice, or no grain at all; yet others mention streaky bacon and sliced beef. Clearly, as long as you’ve got leeks & chicken, go ye forth and cock-a-leekie.
  2. I used half chicken stock and half water as I wanted a lighter flavor, to allow the lemon to shine through, and my homemade stock tends to be fairly robust. You could certainly use 2 quarts of chicken stock instead. Just don’t bother using store-bought stock: the soup is basically leeks boiled in stock. You won’t get a decent soup out of commercial stock.
  3. You can of course, start from scratch, instead of using frozen stock & roasted chicken: simmer a cock (is it bad that I can’t say that without snorting?) for an hour or two; then remove the chicken, strip the meat and return the bones to the stock pot to simmer for a few more hours for a deep, rich stock. Proceed as above, lightening the stock with water if you desire.
  4. Don’t skip the fresh parsley: it really finishes the dish and I think it is vital to the overall flavor.

STORE

Refrigerated for up to 5 days. Frozen for up to 6 months.

SEASON

Fall through Spring.

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26 comments

  1. Kate

    In honor of your Scottish heritage, Kaela, fancy making seville orange marmalade? It was invented (or at least popularized) by Janet Keiller in Dundee in the 1700’s. It’s fabulous! Hannaford’s has the bitter oranges, but only for a short season, and Delia Smith (online) has such a great recipe, I forgive her for calling it English.

    • Hi Kate,

      I’ve looked & looked, but I can’t find a good source of organic Seville oranges near me or online. (And although I do occasionally eat conventionally farmed fruit, it’s very difficult to find out pesticide load because “no one” eats the rind.) That said, I don’t even see conventional bitter oranges near me: I suppose Fairway in NYC has them, but we don’t have Hannaford’s and I’ve never seen them up here.

      If you ever see a good online source for organic Sevilles, please do let me know! I’d love to try my hand at a traditional Scottish marm!

      • Kate

        Hannaford’s in Carmel NY has them – not far from you – but I might have bought all the pretty ones! Pesticide load? I’m optimistic (when it suits me) that they are so bitter no pests will eat them until they are mixed with twice their weight in sugar! I was in Mexico 2 weeks ago and they were dropping off trees and lying all over the road – then I had to come home and pay a buck each for them in Hannaford! The marmalade is so worth it though!

  2. Looks yummy. Can I substitute preserved lemon with something else? I have not tried preserved lemons before and if I buy them for this recipe, what else can I use it for? Am a total preserved lemon newbie.

    • Preserved lemon is a different creature from regular lemon: of course you can substitute regular lemon juice and zest, but preserved lemon gives this soup a unique flavor.

      If you’ve never tried it, preserved lemon is great with roasted beans, with grain dishes like couscous or quinoa, tossed with pasta or on pizza. A little goes a long way, so a small jar would last you a while.

  3. This looks absolutely delicious! Proper English leeks do not grow in Florida, at least not ’round here. But the mid-sized baby purple onions are in the markets right now, they’re basically the onions that get pulled to thin the rows and allow the rest of the onions a little growing room. They’re delicious and the whole thing can be used, unlike proper leeks.

    Thank you!

  4. The minute I saw Cock-a-Leekie I got excited. My grandmother was born and raised in Scotland and always mentioned this soup. But for some reason I don’t think it was a soup she made for us, and I remember some really good soups! I hadn’t thought of this in years, but now I really want to make this recipe a part of our family! Thank you!

  5. Jenny C

    Holy crap, this soup is good, even with subbing regular lemon for preserved, and a combo of paprika & cayenne for the Aleppo pepper. I also added a big pile of green beans, since they were languishing in the fridge. Yummo!

  6. Pingback: January Cook the Books! Wrap-up! | Grow & Resist

  7. I didn’t make it as far as cocking a leekie this year, and only have a shirt tail connection to Scotland, but I have had the holy grail of all gaggis…oops, haggis. What I did manage to do this year right around Burns Night (25 Jan.) was enjoy a fine evening of traditional songs and not so traditional goodies and wines. BUT, my contribution was soda bread, and I haven’t stopped making and munching it since I made the first batch! Don’t know why I waited so long – it’s a quick bread, no yeast, and seriously delicious. REALLY good with sharp cheddar while the bread is warm, or the applesauce whipped with butter that we find here in Quebec labeled as ‘apple butter.’ Wicked with that stuff (heaping dollops) and tea.

    But, about that haggis, check it out here: http://www.fruitrootleaf.com/2013/01/what-is-scottish-and-burns-in-night.html. If you scroll down to the bottom, there’s the scrumptious BBC soda bread I can’t step away from. :)

    Bethann at fruitrootleaf.com

      • Nice! You know, yes, I did a lot of reading about it online, but actually never found anything that addressed what we were trying to make. We weren’t going for the soft gooey lemons.

        In fact, thanks to a chef friend with broad multi-national Asian influences, we were aiming for a salt-cured lemon that was about the same texture as if you were to make candied lemon rinds (as in stored in sugar for quite some time). The lemons we made sat in salt for well over a year before we used them, and had a distinctly “dried” texture. Really interesting with chicken, venison roasts, couscous, etc.

        So, I guess all that goes to say that I plan to write it up someday, as I couldn’t find anything detailing that process. Have you ever tried to make something more like that?

  8. anduin

    First of all, there are too many “ew”s for not having tried it. Secondly, your embedded links are so unexpected and enjoyable (read, distracting). I’m glad to know the etymology for cocked-up and “Beginners” is on my Netflix cue. Nice find on that film critic.

  9. Sounds lovely! And what a fun name :) It reminds me of a potato & leek soup my dad made. When we were kids we’d sing, “Dad made a leekie- leaky soup!”

  10. Pingback: Cock-a-leekie soup | The Trishaw

  11. Kitchen-Counter-Culture

    I am loving your approach to preserved lemons, in this and other recipes. Inspired! And that extra kick of sour/ bitter/ salty…

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