Celebrate Burns Night with Scottish cock-a-leekie soup

Jan. 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Celebrate with a hearty bowl of Scottish cock-a-leekie.

By , The Runaway Spoon

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    Practice your Scottish burr and ladle up some cock-a-leekie soup for Burns Night on Jan. 25.
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January 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Suppers are held across Scotland and by many Scottish societies and clubs around the world. I was challenged by a friend some years ago to host a Burns Night supper and so I did. I put plaid fabric down the table as a runner and had florist make up arrangements of thistle and heather. I tied place cards to miniature bottles of Scotch with plaid ribbon and wore my Scottish family motto kilt pin and pendant (I outgrow the hereditary kilt as a child). I printed out the Burns blessing and forced the challenging friend to read it aloud. I may have even had a recording of bagpipes.

The only difficulty was coming up with a menu, as about the only ting I knew of as Scottish food was haggis, and I wasn’t going there. I made a Scottish dessert of oats and cream and raspberries called Cranachan, and beef tenderloin doused in Drambuie and Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes).  But the real culinary discovery was Cock-a-Leekie Soup.  I can’t remember where I dug up the original recipe, but I have since made it my own, because it is so simple and warming.  It is a unique twist on chicken noodle, full of gentle leek flavor and homey barley.  So now, Burns Night or nay, I make Cock-a-Leekie for pure comfort. And I recommend you do to, because a big, steaming bowl will warm you inside and out.

I may be crossing too many cultural lines here, but it is very good with a hunk of buttered Simple Soda Bread.

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Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Serves 4

For the Broth:

1 whole chicken, giblets removed

2 leeks

2 carrots

1 celery stalk

1 small white onion

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoons salt

For the Soup:

2 Tablespoons butter

3 leeks

1/2 cup pearled barley

1. Place all the broth ingredients into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and cover with 10 – 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off any scummy foam that rises. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours. Taste the stock; it should be nice and rich. Simmer a bit longer if you’d prefer.

2. Strain the stock into a big bowl through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth or a tea towel. Pull out all the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, fat and vegetables. Leave the broth to cool and settle, then skim off as much fat as possible. I generally make the stock a day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. It is then easy to remove the fat from the top of the stock. Refrigerate the meat also if you are leaving the soup overnight.

3. When ready to cook, place the barley in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water.  Leave to soak for at least an hour or until much of the water is absorbed.  Quarter the leeks then cut into thin slivers. Place in a colander and rinse very well. Shred and chop about 2 cups of chicken meat. Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon so you want spoon-sized pieces.

4. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and add the leeks. Cook the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and wilted, then add 8 cups of chicken stock. Add the soaked barley and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, then add the chopped chicken meat. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until the barley is tender and toothsome.

5. Season with salt and serve nice and warm. You’ll have some extra broth and some extra chicken. Lucky you!

The Burns Blessing

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

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