A Panaceous Scottish Chicken Soup

A rare benefit of living in a pandemic was that, thanks to all the mask-wearing and distancing, I managed to avoid my usual onslaught of...


A rare benefit of living in a pandemic was that, thanks to all the mask-wearing and distancing, I managed to avoid my usual onslaught of winter colds. It drastically changed my chicken soup habits.

Usually I would brew a pot of Jewish penicillin at the first sign of a sore throat. Loads of garlic, celery, carrots and noodles simmered until they’re so soft and slippery you barely need to chew them; it’s pure childhood comfort for me. He saw my family go through countless sniffles and bouts of bronchitis. Whenever I feel rotten, no other soup will do.

A recipe dating back to at least the 16th century, it is considered Scotland’s national soup, ladle for St. Andrew, Hogmanay and burn the night.

The most minimalist recipes call for a rich chicken broth sprinkled with slices of leek and chunks of simmered poultry, without even a sprig of parsley or a slice of carrot decorating the bowl. More elaborate incarnations include beef broth or meat, rice or oatmeal and, a typically medieval addition, prunes or raisins.

Writing in the early 19th century, under the pseudonym Margaret Dods, Christian Isobel Johnstone had a cock-a-leekie recipe in “The Cook’s and Housewife’s Handbook“which includes capon, beef shank, optional oatmeal and lots of leeks,”boiled in the soup until it becomes a green, lubricating compound.

But she skipped the dried fruits, calling them obsolete.

In my version, I kept the diced prunes, which add a nice sweetness, but left out the beef, which seems like overkill when you already have a chicken in the pot.

And instead of rice or oatmeal, I opted for the barley offered by Felicity’s Cloak in his recipe in The Guardianwhich she prefers for its chewy texture and nutty flavor.

Breaking with tradition, I also added garlic, celery and carrots. This brought the broth slightly closer to my beloved Jewish penicillin, but without obscuring the leeks, chicken, and prunes. Warming, hearty and very satisfying, it is sure to heal whatever ails you, whether in body or mind.

Recipe: Cock-a-Leekie soup (Scottish chicken and leek soup)

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