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September 2013



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Starving Artists in the Kitchen--Cock-a-leekie Soup

Cock-a-leekie Soup–and a Bonus Recipe*, besides!

We’re cooking Cock-a-leekie this week, a very old, very simple chicken soup recipe from Scotland (could you tell from the name?) that lets me get the most out of a single chicken–with fresh hot roast chicken and chicken salad as stops along the way, of course. (Cock-a-leekie was mentioned being served at a knight’s table in 1598–THAT is an old recipe!) It’s a great use for some of that wonderful ever-changing soup stock we shared last time.

Here's Wikipedia's take on the old classic!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cock-a-leekie_soup 

So, off to the kitchen!  As I believe Jeff Smith, A.K.A. the Frugal Gourmet (R.I.P. and sorely missed!) used to say, “first you take a leek.”

Ummm...maybe it wasn’t Jeff–correct me on that?

Anyway, actually, first you take a chicken, but I couldn’t resist the old saw.

Some recipes call for potatoes, but we don’t eat many spuds for a variety of reasons; since the Joy of Cooking* didn't include potatoes in their version either, we felt fine about skipping them. (That is still my favorite cookbook, old and tattered though it is! It's been my "kitchen bible" for more years than I care to admit!)

Besides, who needs the starch, carbs, empty calories, and an overabundance of nightshade family members, which my arthritis HATES. (During fried green tomato season, however, I just hurt and to heck with it!) If you do use potatoes, I imagine you already know that most of the nutrients are in and just below the skin...which of course you don’t want to eat if it’s been sunburned. (The skin will be green, if that’s the case. Not good.)

Other variations call for rice or barley, but my simple version is delightful, delicate, traditional, and easy.

We get whole roast chickens at our grocer’s–they use what they call “Smart Chickens” by which they mean hormone-free, antibiotic-free birds fed on grain–no animal by-products. You can read more about them here: http://www.smartchicken.com/ch.php

Sounds good to me! If you buy a whole bird to roast yourself, it costs about as much, and takes time and fuel. We save a step, and so our first meal is always fresh, hot, juicy roast chicken, as soon as we get home from the store!

If you’ve got a good source of free-range chickens, though, GO for it! Delicious...

We eat what we want, and pull the largest of the meat off the bones, then simmer the bones in the soup stock, above–5-7 cups of stock. If it’s not strong enough for you, you may give it a boost with one of the commercial stock options, forgive the pun. I like "Better than Bouillon" Chicken Base* , which got the best reviews in the gourmet mag I picked up to read while we were having the truck’s brakes fixed last month. (Please don’t ask the name of the magazine, I don’t remember! Next time the brakes give out, I’ll look...)

I let the bones bubble an hour or so in the stock, then strain them out, let them cool, and pick off the small bits of meat, usually gleaning another cup or so. Return the meat to the pot, along with however much of the larger meat you set aside. Cut to your preferred size–my late husband liked large chunks so he didn’t feel deprived–he grew up just after the Depression; J. likes smaller bits, and so do I. (We saved enough back for chicken salad!)
Leeks are not as cheap as bulk bags of onions (here, about $2.50 for 3 good-sized ones), but oh my they are GOOD. You could substitute scallions or regular onions, of course, but the taste would be a bit stronger.

Cut off the large, tough green end and the roots of 3-6 leeks, then slice the stalk lengthwise. Open the “leaves” and rinse well–they may be sandy. Then cut into short half-moon lengths–like less than 1" long–and add to the pot.

Simmer till tender, then add ½ cup heavy cream (the original recipe), sour cream, or even fat free plain yogurt (you can make your own–it’s not hard. But we’ll talk about that another time!) I added a bit of fresh ground pepper, but it didn’t seem to need salt.
Try it with herbs if you like–they’re not in most recipes I could find and the soup is so wondrously rich and savory it doesn’t need them. I doubt it would have been quite that good without the homemade soup stock we talked about in this entry, http://katequicksilvr.livejournal.com/357079.html, but still wonderful...

Historical Note: The traditional recipe calls for the addition of prunes, which I’m going to have to try next time! I love savory fruit-and-meat-and-onion combinations...but by the late 18th C. French gastronome Talleyrand suggested cooking the prunes in the broth but removing them before serving. Whatever!

Some of the green part of the leeks will be just too tough for soup...but you can simmer them with the chicken bones (yes, again!) to add to your stock pot. What’s left–except the bones–can go onto the compost heap along with the really tough part of the leek tops and the roots.

*Bonus!  Chicken Salad #1

While I slaved over a hot computer, J. made chicken salad for lunch, out of the rest of the meat he pulled off the bone yesterday–with about a half cup of finely chopped Vidalia onion (remember them from the ratatouille recipe?  http://www.vidaliaonion.org/index.php ) , garlic, a tablespoon or two of pickle relish, pepper, curry powder, and mayo to the desired consistency. It was so good it didn’t need salt! (For me, that’s saying something...)

Served in a mound on a mixed green salad, in a bed of steamed spinach, in a pita-bread or croissant sandwich, on crackers or simply standing at the kitchen counter with a big spoon if you’re in a hurry, this is luscious...

This is one of many chicken salad recipes you’ll be seeing here, through the weeks and months–though to call it a recipe might be stretching a bit. We tend to cook by the seat of our pants, sometimes–a pinch of this, a bit of that, and a little more of the other, to taste!

It was good enough for grandma, it’s good enough for me...
Mayo note:
And by the way, we use real mayonnaise–Hellman’s, thanks, or on the West Coast, Best Foods, which is the same thing. I loved the canola oil Hellman’s when it first came out–it was just regular mayo made with healthful canola. Then they changed the recipe to be “low fat,” and added way too many exotic chemicals for my taste. Read the ingredients list, if you don’t believe it–as we’ve said before, the low-fat versions of most products are almost always higher in weird chemicals! We like to K.I.S.S.–that’s “keep it simple, stupid,” but of course a real kiss always adds spice, too...

Are you keeping count? This is at least 10 servings from one chicken and 3 leeks, plus my ongoing soup stock. (And ok, the bit of chopped onion and pickle relish for the salad, above.) Not bad!

And if you’ve got any of the broth left from the cock-a-leekie, throw it into the stock pot for next time!


* Wow, who knew Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking came out with a 75th Anniversary edition in 2006? I love that cookbook...whenever there’s something I really want to know, that’s the one I reach for--I pretty much know it will be in there, and in classic form.

* And who knew "Better Than Bouillon" made all those different stock/soup bases?!  I've tried the beef, which is lovely, but now I want to explore further...

For you artists out there...the illustration was done with watercolors (mostly Kremer) and a brown Micron Pigma pen on Fabriano hot press paper.)



Man, Miss Kate, it takes a LOT of time to write down these recipes, doesn't it?? I guess you're doing it in your copious spare time ;D.
I'm making turkey broth this weekend, so I won't have to do last minute prep for gravy next week. I'll be thinking of you ;D.
Yes, hooray, Joseph types out his own for me (along with cooking the dinner, when it's his stuff!), and all I have to do is add the local color. :-) He's a doll!

I love the smell of turkey broth...a friend used to make the BEST turkey/cabbage soup after Thanksgiving! I need to ask her how...

And I'll be thinking of you, too!

Edited at 2008-11-20 11:19 pm (UTC)


Can't wait!

You two are fabulous cooks and I am a hungry and appreciate artist! Thank you, again1

Re: Can't wait!

Let me know what you think of it, Chaska! I love including some of the history, when we know it or can dig it out. There was so MUCH on cock-a-leekie that the background could be a whole entry by itself!
Making me hungry, as usual :) Thanks for the great posts!
I'm glad you like them, they ARE fun, and we like to share. It's like having a cyber dinner party, so we don't have to clean the house!


Both the soup and the chicken salad sound good to me. I would add the potatoes myself. An interesting note I read about potatoes was that the pioneers ate them for the Vitamin C (of course they didn't know it was Vitamin C). They ate them to prevent scurvy especially during the winter. Potatoes have served an honorable position to keep people full and healthy even though they get such a bad rap in today's world.

Hellmans (Best Foods) is the only mayo I'll eat although sparingly. Fat is my avoidance food. We are so lucky to have enough food we can be picky about what we eat which is an appropriate thought with Thanksgiving coming up!

I am enjoying your thoughts and recipes on food.
Hi Timaree, and welcome aboard!

Potatoes are kind of like eggs, aren't they?! First they were the perfect food, then you needed to avoid them, then they were good in moderation, then they were a bad idea, then they were fine again, and now that I get free range Omega 6 eggs with nice orange yolks I just enjoy them!

And yes, it was the skins that actually contained the vitamins in potatoes...the white part is mostly just starch, as I understand it. Delicious, filling starch, but...starch.<;0

I try to keep fats to a minimum, too...mayo's one of those things that I don't eat a LOT of, but when I do it better taste good!