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?


One smoked trout and two meals for two.

A hot smoked trout is a lovely treasure to store in the fridge for summer days. It landed there before Christmas and I am rather pleased it wasn’t required for a Christmas smoked trout pate. Now I can enjoy its pink, smoky flesh slowly over a couple of meals.

This hot day salad is a relative of Salad Nicoise. The ingredients are randomly chosen from the garden such as potato, beans, tomato, cucumber, dill and parsley with hard-boiled eggs and pickled gherkins added.  You can add whatever is on hand. Add half the smoked trout, flaked and de-boned to the salad, making sure that you reserve the head, bones and skin, along with the rest of the trout, for the next use. Dress liberally with a garlic and hot mustard vinaigrette.

My next day soup, using the remaining trout and its carcass, is Cullen Skink, that famous chowder style soup from the coastal town of Cullen in Scotland. On a cool summer’s day when the rain softly drizzles, a little chowder is quite restorative.

Cullen Skink.

Ingredients, a list not measured!

  • Head, bones and skin of smoked trout
  • flaked flesh from the trout
  • one onion
  • butter
  • milk
  • cream ( optional)
  • bay leaf
  • 2 potatoes
  • pepper
  • dill, parsley.
trout ones and head cooking in milk.
trout bones and head cooking in milk.
  1. Remove the bones, skin and head from the trout. Flake the fish, reserve. In a small pan, add the bones, head and skin, along with milk generously to cover and one bay leaf. Cook gently for five minutes or so, then cool.
  2. Cook the peeled potatoes, cut into chunks, in water until soft. Reserve water. Mash potatoes.
  3. Melt some butter in a heavy based pan and cook the chopped onion gently until golden. Using a mesh strainer, add all the strained milk from step one, to the onions. Press the solids in the strainer, to extract more flavour and add this. Discard solids. Add the mashed potato. Thin a little with potato cooking water.
  4. Add flaked trout, ground black pepper, chopped herbs and cream, tasting as you go, to obtain a good texture. It’s up to you how thin or rich your chowder becomes.
  5. Serve with good bread. An Irish soda bread would be perfect.


Another day, another sourdough.
Another day, another sourdough.

These two meals, using garden produce, costing the trout at $7.30, along with the cost of milk, cream, butter and some pantry bits, came to around $10.00. That is $2.50 per person per meal, for the salad and the soup, a little more than my $1.00 per meal goal.  I have not factored in the cost of power, or the labour involved in growing our own vegetables.