Cock-A-Leekie Soup

Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

Cock-A-Leekie soup was on the menu during my first cruise in 1991 and I have loved this simple fare ever since.

While its origins are unclear, this savoury broth soup is most often associated with Scotland.  In particular, it is often standard fare as a starter on menus for “Burns Night” dinners which, of course, celebrate the birth of Scotland’s famed poet and lyricist, Robert Burns (aka Rabbie Burns) on January 25th. Burns, as you may know, wrote many famous poems and lyrics during his short life and one you may most recognize would be “Auld Lang Syne” which is often sung on New Year’s Eve.

And, as a wee bit of soup trivia, “Cockie Leekie” was also one of two soup options on the Titantic’s  First Class Passengers’ lunch menu on the  day the ship sank in April, 1912.

Earliest tracings of this soup date back to the 1500s. Of course, with Scottish ancestry, I am wondering if my ancestors from the Isle of Skye may have dined on Cock-A-Leekie soup. As I write this posting, it is the eve of “Burns Night” so it seems apropos that I would do a posting with a Scottish flavour.    I am, therefore, sharing my recipe for Cock-A-Leekie soup.

Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

So, what’s in Cock-A-Leekie soup? Well, the answer is, not much, actually.  As its name suggests, the two main ingredients are chicken and leeks – in fact, you may hear the soup called “Chicken Cock-A-Leekie” or “Chicken and Leek Soup”.  Original recipes also called for the addition of prunes in this soup and it’s unclear as to why unless they were added for extra nutrition.  Barley is often added to the soup to act as a filler and to provide some natural thickening to the broth.  Rice is sometimes used instead of barley.  Very little seasoning is added to a traditional Cock-A-Leekie soup, often nothing more than a bit of thyme and parsley.

Over the years that I have been making this soup which, by the way, freezes well, I have “jazzed” it up a tad to add some additional flavour. By adding some parsnip, carrots, celery, and rutabaga, nutritional value is increased and the soup is more filling and can, in fact, be used as a main meal for lunch, as opposed to a starter.  My recipe also has some flavour boost from minced garlic, allspice, and Herbes de Provence.  I don’t add a lot of any of these but just enough to increase the flavour a bit.

Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

I use chicken breasts with bone in for this recipe.  In my view, any meat or poultry with the bone in has more flavour than boneless versions. Because chicken is one of the main ingredients in this soup, about 2 cups of meat will be required.  Generally, about 1 1/4 lbs of chicken breast, bone in, will yield around 2 cups of cooked chicken, diced. I also add a bay leaf, some liquid chicken bouillon, and a handful of celery leaves to the chicken as it cooks – the leaves from 2-3 stalks of celery will suffice.  I find chicken can be very bland unless it is given a flavour boost.

The chicken for this recipe can either be diced or shredded. My preference is to dice the chicken (as shown in the photo below) as it makes a tidier soup and I find the shredded chicken to be too stringy for my liking.

Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

The different vegetables in this soup require different cooking times so, parsnips and rutabaga and celery get added first to give them a head start on the cooking process.

Because this soup does not need to cook for hours on the stove, I recommend the use of pearl barley over pot barley because it cooks quicker.  In addition, I have added some split red lentils to the recipe as they, along with the barley, help to naturally thicken the broth without adding any other thickening agent (such as flour or cornstarch). Lentils belong to the legume family and are edible pulses which are crops harvested solely for the dry seed.

Split Red Lentils
Split Red Lentils

Because the split red lentils cook quickly and the idea is that they not turn to mush in this recipe and detract from the soup’s broth texture, add them near the end of the soup cooking process. Lentils are, of course, rich in fibre, have a high protein content, and are a good source of vitamins and minerals all of which naturally lead to numerous health benefits. So, they are a good contributor to healthy soups.

This soup can be served with crusty rolls, baguette, biscuits, crackers, or with traditional Scottish oatcakes as I have done here.

Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

I hope you will try Cock-A-Leekie soup and that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Cock-A-Leekie Soup

Ingredients:

5 cups water
2½ tbsp liquid chicken bouillon
1¼ lb. skinless chicken breasts, bone in (should yield apx. 2 cups diced chicken, cooked)
1 bay leaf
Handful of celery leaves

1 small parsnip, sliced thinly
1 celery rib, sliced
2/3 cup rutabaga, diced
2 tbsp pearl barley
¾ tsp salt
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 cups sliced leek (white and light green parts) – apx. 1 large leek
1½ tsp minced garlic
1 tsp brown sugar

2 tbsp split red lentils
1/8 tsp allspice
¾ tsp Herbes de Provence
¾ tsp dried parsley

Sour cream, parsley, and truffle oil for garnish (optional)

Method:

In medium-sized soup pot, bring the water and chicken bouillon to a boil. Add chicken breasts, bay leaf, and celery leaves. Cover. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook until chicken pieces are cooked, using a meat thermometer to check doneness.

Remove chicken pieces from broth and transfer to heat-resistant plate to cool slightly before removing meat from the bones. Remove and discard celery leaves.

While chicken is cooling, add the parsnip, celery, rutabaga, barley, and salt to the broth.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and cook vegetables for about 10 minutes then add the carrot, leek, garlic and brown sugar.

Sliced leek for Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Sliced leek for Cock-A-Leekie Soup

Return mixture to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the lentils, allspice, Herbes de Provence, and parsley. Cook for approximately 8-10 minutes, just until lentils are tender but not mushy.

Split Red Lentils
Split Red Lentils

Dice, or shred, chicken and add to soup. Heat gently for about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.

Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a dob of sour cream, fresh parsley, and a drizzle of truffle oil, if desired.

Yield: Apx. 6 servings (1 cup each)

Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup

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Cock-A-Leekie Soup

Yield: 6

Serving Size: 1-cup

A tasty broth-based soup filled with nutritious ingredients and flavour.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ tbsp liquid chicken bouillon
  • 1¼ lb. skinless chicken breasts, bone in (should yield apx. 2 cups diced chicken, cooked)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Handful of celery leaves
  • 1 small parsnip, sliced thinly
  • 1 celery rib, sliced
  • 2/3 cup rutabaga, diced
  • 2 tbsp pearl barley
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 2 cups sliced leek (white and light green parts) – apx. 1 large leek
  • 1½ tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp split red lentils
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • ¾ tsp Herbes de Provence
  • ¾ tsp dried parsley
  • Sour cream, parsley, and truffle oil for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. In medium-sized soup pot, bring the water and chicken bouillon to a boil. Add chicken breasts, bay leaf, and celery leaves. Cover. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook until chicken pieces are cooked, using a meat thermometer to check doneness.
  2. Remove chicken pieces from broth and transfer to heat-resistant plate to cool slightly before removing meat from the bones. Remove and discard celery leaves.
  3. While chicken is cooling, add the parsnip, celery, rutabaga, barley, and salt to the broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and cook vegetables for about 10 minutes then add the carrot, leek, garlic and brown sugar. Return mixture to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the lentils, allspice, Herbes de Provence, and parsley. Cook for approximately 8-10 minutes, just until lentils are tender but not mushy.
  4. Dice, or shred, chicken and add to soup. Heat gently for about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.
  5. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a dob of sour cream, fresh parsley, and a drizzle of truffle oil, if desired.
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Cock-A-Leekie Soup
Cock-A-Leekie Soup
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