A cheeky Scottish chicken soup for chilly spring nights

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

Active time:20 minutes

Total time:2 hours

Servings:4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)

Active time:20 minutes

Total time:2 hours

Servings:4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)


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

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Here’s how it works: Each participant prepares six liters of one type of soup (I made my family favorite minestrone). Everyone gathers, arranges their soup containers and describes their contribution. Then, in six rounds of choice, one for each liter of soup brought in, you choose a different soup from the range. I came home to an exciting variety, including Chicken Okra, Red Lentils, and Cock-a Leeky, which inspired this recipe. This was my first time trying traditional Scottish soup, which I find as fun to say as it is satisfying to cook and eat. True to its name, its main ingredients are chicken and leeks. From there, the ingredients and preparations vary depending on who you ask, but I’ve done my best to come close to the version I received in exchange, a tasty pot of soothing goodness based on carrots, celery and barley in a homemade chicken broth.

Experiencing the processing of the few simple ingredients involved makes baking incredibly satisfying. It takes a few hours, but it’s relatively convenient, so it’s ideal for a day when you might be spending time in your house.

You first make a broth by simmering bone-in chicken thighs, leeks, carrots and 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 make such a rich broth and will require a little less cooking time so the meat doesn’t get tough. Ultimately, you strain the broth and remove the chicken from the bone to use in the soup.

Once the broth is done, you can continue making the soup right away or refrigerate it overnight – or up to 3 days – and, if you want a lighter broth, scrape off the fat that solidifies on top. Personally, I like to keep at least some fat for body and richness. You add more leeks, carrots and celery to the simmering broth, then the barley and a touch of white pepper, and cook until tender.

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

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

Storage: Refrigerate up to 4 days.

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

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

Place the chicken in a large pot with one of the leeks (2 halves), the equivalent of about 1 of the carrots, the celery and the bay leaf. Add enough water to cover everything by about 1 inch and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to bring the liquid to a simmer and skim off any gray scum that may collect on the surface of the liquid. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, cover and cook until the 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 it’s cool enough to handle, use your fingers to separate the chicken meat from the bones and divide it into bite-size pieces. Discard bones and skin.

Strain the broth to remove and discard any solids. (At this point, you can go ahead and finish the soup, or refrigerate the strained broth and chicken in separate containers for up to 3 days. Once the broth is cold, you can scrape the solidified fat off the top if you prefer a leaner soup.)

Return the broth to the pot. Cut the remaining leeks into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and add them to the pot along with the remaining carrots. Return 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 broth is slightly reduced and concentrated, about 30 minutes longer. Return the chicken to the pot, taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

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

Per serving (2 cups), based on 6

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

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

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

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

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