How to make cock-a-leekie – recipe

Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie soup.
Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie soup. Photograph: The Hunturdeals. Food styling: Loïc Parisot
Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie soup. Photograph: The Hunturdeals. Food styling: Loïc Parisot

A hearty, warming Scottish chicken-and-leek soup with roots in the Middle Ages

Felicity Cloake
Wed 13 Jan 2021 07.00 EST

One in a long and noble list of wonderfully named British soups, cockie leekie, as it’s sometimes known, is an old Scottish favourite that dates back to at least the 16th century, but that has its roots in the medieval culinary tradition of meat and fruit pottages. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most wholesome lunches or suppers imaginable; a true feast in a bowl.

Prep 10 min
Cook 2 hr 45 min
Serves 4

2 chicken legs
2 large leeks
1 large carrot
1 bay leaf

100g barley (optional)
25g soft dried prunes

1 Choose your chicken

Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie 01

Traditionally, recipes call for an old boiling fowl, but those can be hard to get hold of these days, while a whole chicken yields far more meat than is required here – by all means use one, strip off the meat and save the excess for something else entirely, such as a pie, but otherwise legs are a flavourful and economical choice. (Note, a whole chicken will serve eight and require double the other ingredients.)

2 Poach the chicken

Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie 02

Put the legs, skin on, in a large pan with two litres of cold water and bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface.

Meanwhile, wash the leeks well, making sure you get rid of any grit lurking between the layers, then cut off the coarse green parts and set aside the whites until later.

3 Prep the vegetables

Wash and roughly chop the carrot – there’s no need to peel it, unless it’s filthy. If you like, add any celery, garlic, onions or old herbs in need of using up; peel the onion and garlic, but otherwise merely clean veg is sufficient, because you’ll discard them before serving. I prefer to keep things simple, though.

4 Add the veg, season and cook for two hours

Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie 03

Once the pan is bubbling, skim again, then turn down the heat to the barest simmer and add the leek tops, carrot, bay leaf and any other veg. Season with salt and a good pinch of ground pepper, preferably white, for its gentler flavour, and leave to cook gently for two hours, checking occasionally that the mixture is not boiling.

5 Remove the vegetables and add the barley

Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie 04

Remove and discard the carrot, bay leaf and leek greens, plus any other vegetables you’ve put in there (this is easiest done with tongs or a slotted spoon, so you lose as little of the broth as possible). Add the barley, if using, to the pot – you could swap in rice, spelt, oats or even small pasta shapes, in which case adjust the cooking time as necessary.

6 Add the leek whites

Cook the barley for 15 minutes (you can skip this part for oats or pasta, because it will cook in the same time as the leeks). Meanwhile, chop the reserved white part of the leeks into chunky rounds and, once the barley is starting to soften, add these to the pan, too, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, until both are cooked through.

7 Remove the chicken and add the prunes

Felicity Cloake’s cock-a-leekie 05

While the leeks are cooking, roughly chop the prunes, removing the stones, if necessary. When the leeks and barley are ready, carefully lift the chicken legs out of the pan, again making sure to take out as little liquid as possible, and put in a bowl until cool enough to handle. Add the prunes to the pan, taste the broth and season as you see fit.

8 Pick the meat off the chicken

Put four bowls into a low oven to warm (or fill them with hot water). Pick the meat from the chicken, discarding the bones and skin (they should have given up all their flavour to the soup, so there’s not much point in keeping them for stock, unless it’s to flavour pet food). Divide the chicken meat between the bowls.

9 And serve

Reheat the broth and pour over the top of the chicken to serve, snipping a few chives, parsley leaves or celery tops over the top if you’d like a dash of colour, though I tend to confine the garnish to a little more pepper. Like almost all soups, this one is even better served with robust brown bread to mop up the last of the broth.

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