A Scottish chicken soup recipe with a cheeky name for chilly spring evenings

Cock-a-Leekie Soup (Chicken and Leek Soup with Barley)

Active Time:20 minutes

Total time:two o’clock

Portions:4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)

Active Time:20 minutes

Total time:two o’clock

Portions:4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)


Ever heard of a soup swap? I recently attended one for the first time and came home with new types of soup, new friends, and plans to make soup swapping a new tradition in my life.

Clean leeks and do more with the versatile allium

Here’s how it works: Each contestant makes six quarts of one type of soup (I made my Family Favorite Minestrone). Everyone gets together, puts down their soup pots and describes their contribution. You then choose a different soup from the line-up in six selection rounds, one for each liter of soup. I came home with an exciting variety, including chicken gumbo, red lentils, and cock-a-leekie, which inspired this recipe. It was my first time trying the traditional Scottish soup which I love to say as much as it is satisfying to cook and eat. True to its name, the main ingredients are chicken and leeks. From there, the ingredients and preparations vary depending on who you ask, but I did my best to approximate the version I received in the trade, a soothing savory pot of goodness made with carrots, celery, and barley in a homemade chicken broth.

Experiencing the transformation of the few simple ingredients makes cooking incredibly satisfying. It takes a few hours, but it’s relatively hands-off, so it’s ideal for a day when you might be rummaging through your house.

First you make a broth by simmering chicken thighs with bone, leek, carrot, celery, salt and a bay leaf in water for about an hour and a half. You can substitute the chicken breast if you prefer, but it won’t produce as rich a broth and will require a little less cooking time so the meat doesn’t get tough. Finally, strain the broth and pull the chicken off the bone to use in the soup.

Once the broth is ready, you can continue making the soup right away or refrigerate it overnight — or up to three days — and, if you want a lighter broth, scrape off the fat that solidifies on top. Personally, I like to keep at least some of the fat for body and richness. You add more leeks, carrots and celery to the simmering stock, then the barley and a dash of white pepper, and cook until everything is tender.

Finally, stir in the chicken meat and serve the soup garnished with parsley. It’s a really nutritious comfort food, which I enjoyed so much I plan to switch it up regularly, and maybe even bring it to my next soup swap.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup (Chicken and Leek Soup with Barley)

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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  • 4 large leeks
  • 2 pounds chicken thighs skin on bone
  • 12 ounces carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins
  • Two stalks of celery, cut into large pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Water
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup of pearled barley
  • 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Remove the coarse green parts of the leek and remove the roots. Halve the remaining white and light green pieces of leek lengthwise. Wash them well to remove any sand or grit between coats.

Place the chicken in a large soup pot along with one of the leeks (2 halves), the equivalent of about 1 carrot, the celery and the bay leaf. Add enough water to cover everything by about an inch and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so that the liquid comes to a boil and skim off any gray foam that might build up on the surface of the liquid. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until chicken is tender and separates easily from the bone, about 1 1/2 hours.

Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Once cool enough to handle, use your fingers to separate the chicken meat from the bones and break it into bite-sized pieces. Discard the bones and skin.

Strain the stock to remove and discard all solids. (At this point, you can continue and finish the soup, or store the strained stock and chicken in separate containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Once the stock is cold, you can scrape off the congealed fat if you prefer a leaner soup.)

Return the broth to the pan. Cut the remaining leeks into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and add them to the pot with the remaining carrots. Bring the soup to a boil and add the barley and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until barley and vegetables are tender and stock is slightly reduced and concentrated, about 30 more minutes. Return the chicken to the pan, taste and season with additional salt if necessary.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with parsley.

Per serving (2 cups), based on 6

Calories: 439; Total Fat: 24g; Saturated fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 127mg; Sodium: 571mg; Carbohydrates: 27g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 29g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to [email protected].

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