Scottish chicken soup recipe with a cheeky name for cold spring nights

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

active time:20 minutes

total time:2 hours

Servings:4 to 6 (about 10 cups)

active time:20 minutes

total time:2 hours

Servings:4 to 6 (about 10 cups)


Have you heard about soup swaps? I attended one for the first time recently and came home with new soups, new friends, and plans to make soup swapping a new tradition in my life.

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Here’s how it works: Each attendee makes six quarts of one type of soup (I made minestrone, my family’s favorite). Everyone gathers, puts out their bowls of soup, and describes their contribution. Then, in six selection rounds, one for each quart of soup, you choose a different soup from the lineup. I came home with an exciting variety, including Chicken Gumbo, Red Lentils, and Cock-a Leekie, that inspired this recipe. It was my first time trying traditional Scottish stew, which I find fun to say satisfying to cook and eat. True to its name, its main ingredients are chicken and leeks. From there, ingredients and preparations vary depending on who you ask, but I’ve done my best to approximate the version I received at Barter, a hearty, comforting bowl made with carrots, celery, and barley in a homemade chicken broth.

Experimenting with the transformation of the simple ingredients involved makes cooking incredibly satisfying. It takes a few hours, but is relatively non-applicable, so it’s perfect for a day when you might be walking around your house.

First, you make the broth by boiling the chicken thighs, leeks, carrots, celery, salt, and bay leaf in water for about an hour and a half. You can substitute chicken breast if you prefer, but it won’t make as much broth, and you’ll need a little less cooking time so the meat isn’t tough. At the end, you filter the broth and pull the chicken off the bone to use in the soup.

Once the broth has simmered, you can continue to make the soup right away, or refrigerate it overnight—or for up to 3 days—and if you want a lighter broth, scrape up the fat that has frozen on top. Personally, I like to keep some of the fat for the body and the richness. You can add more leeks, carrots, and celery to the simmering stock, then the barley and a little white pepper, and cook until everything is tender.

Finally, you toss with the chicken meat and serve the soup garnished with parsley. It’s a really nutritious and comfort food, and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I plan to put it in a regular rotation, and maybe even bring it to my next soup swap.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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  • 4 large leeks
  • 2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs
  • 12 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins
  • Celery stalks, cut into large pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • water
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Flat fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Remove the coarse green parts of the leeks and snip off the roots. Cut the white and light green leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse them thoroughly to remove any sand or gravel between the layers.

Put the chicken in a large pot with a shallot (halved), the equivalent of one carrot, celery and a bay leaf. Add enough water to cover everything by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until the liquid simmers, removing gray scum that may build up on the surface of the liquid. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through and separates easily from bones, about 1 1/2 hours.

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

Strain the broth to remove and discard any solids. (At this point, you can continue and finish the soup, or refrigerate the strained broth and chicken in separate containers for up to 3 days. Once the broth has cooled, you can scrape the refrigerated fat on top if you prefer a leaner soup.)

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

To serve, put the soup on plates and garnish with parsley.

Per serving (2 cups), based on 6

Calories: 439, Total Fat: 24 g; saturated fat: 7 g; cholesterol: 127 mg; sodium: 571 mg; carbohydrates: 27 g; dietary fiber: 6 g; sugar: 5 g; Protein: 29 grams

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

From cookbook author and registered dietitian Ellie Krieger.

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

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