Cullen Skink – Smoked Fish Soup

Lovely sounding name … not! A potato soup with attitude.

Just a hearty, winter-defying, one-pot meal of potato, leek, and smoked haddock, that needs only some good home-made bread or rolls beside it (with perhaps a sliver of good cheese).  Never the same twice running – it depends on your choice of potato.

  • A floury variety that mashes well is best peeled; let the soup cook a wee bit longer before you add the fish, so the potato starts to break up and thicken the soup (help it along by mashing some).
  • Or start with potatoes already mashed for a much smoother soup? Personally, I prefer soup I can chew.
  • Best of all (for me), the waxier potato varieties, which can go in unpeeled and hold their shape, for a really chunky stew-cum-soup.


  • a large piece of undyed smoked haddock (or cod)
  • 1lb 8oz/675g potatoes
  • 2-3 leeks, or a large onion
  • bay leaf
  • salt and pepper
  • parsley to garnish
  • milk (optional)


At its simplest

  • Wash and slice the leeks (or chop the onion), and sauté gently in oil or butter until soft and sweet, but not at all coloured.
  • Clean (and peel?) the potatoes, cut them into 1 inch cubes, and add to the pan; continue cooking a couple of minutes.
  • Add enough water to cover, with salt, pepper, and the bay leaf, and cook until the potatoes are very nearly ready – 5 minutes from being just as you want them, firm chunks, mashed and disintegrating, or in between.
  • Lay the skinned fish fillet(s) on top; by the time the potatoes are perfect, the fish will be ready to skin, flake and mix through. Stir gently – you don’t want the fish to break up too much.
  • Serve with a generous sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley (or coriander).


  • Use rather less water to cook the potatoes and leeks, and add milk to compensate as you add the fish; particularly good with mashed/floury potatoes.

  • Do it “properly”?
    • Start by poaching the fish in 1¼ pints/700 ml of milk, with the bay leaf and the chopped parsley stems (not the leaves – keep them for the later garnish); the idea is to have the pan on the heat no more than 3-4 minutes, and then put it aside for about 5 minutes to let the herbs continue to flavour the milk. Remove the fish, and strain the milk.
    • Prepare and fry the leeks/onion and potato as above, but instead of adding water, add the strained milk from the poached fish (with extra water if necessary), and cook until very nearly ready.
    • Add the skinned fish a few minutes before serving, so that it has time to heat through.


There are … “other versions”, which must have the good fisher- and farmer-folk “at rest” in Cullen kirkyard spinning in their graves. Chef-fy tweaks on a simple household dish. Cooking the fish first, then using the bones and skins to make a stock. Adding fennel, white wine, cream, and floating a poached egg on top, even adding quail eggs. What next – adding garlic? Don’t!

However – this Smoked Fish and Pumpkin Soup does work.


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