Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-a-Leekie Soup is a favourite Traditional Scottish hearty broth. References to Cock-a-Leekie Soup date back to medieval times, 16th Century, where it was found to be described as a filling broth made with wild fowl and leeks - hence the name.
Ancient recipes included prunes as an ingredient, however, this is rarely found in modern day recipes, usually given as an optional ingredient.
As an example of our nation's frugality, early recipes suggest the chicken meat was removed from the broth, to be served as another meal. 
Today, we keep the chicken in the broth, cutting it in to bite size pieces.
Cock-a-Leekie Soup is often served as a soup course at Burn's Night Suppers and St. Andrew's Day.

Traditionally, a whole chicken is simmered for a couple of hours, then removed. The chicken is then diced up and returned to the pot.
The recipe I have for you here, uses boneless chicken breasts or thighs, which are cut in to bite size pieces and added to chicken broth to simmer for a much shorter time.

Leeks must be cleaned well !
Leeks collect a lot of dirt and grit while growing upwards through the soil.

I remember a particular class in Culinary School when we were making Cock-a-Leekie Soup. We were all reminded to wash our leeks thoroughly. At the end of the class, we presented our soups in terrines for the Chef to sample and grade. They were all lined up on a long table. Chef lifted the lid of the first terrine, took his soup ladle and scooped it through the soup. As he did so, there was an audible scraping, gritty sound....'Failed', says Chef ! He did not even taste the soup. What we heard was the grit on the base of the terrines as he scraped the ladle through..... the leeks had not been thoroughly cleaned ! He went down the line and repeated the same with every terrine....'failed, failed failed' ! Everyone failed in that class, and it has remained in my memory as a huge lesson learned !
So don't let me have to say 'Failed' have prior warning ! haha



1lb boneless, skinless, Chicken Breast or Thighs
1quart Chicken Stock
2 Bay Leaves
1/3 cup Long Grain Rice
2 medium sized Leeks
Salt and Pepper to taste [white pepper is preferred ]
1tbsp chopped fresh Parsley


Clean the leeks

Cut the end off the leeks [imagine it is a giant spring onion !]. Trim the tops, discarding very dark green parts. Cut the leeks in to approx 1/4 inch circles, you can also slice the leek in half if you like. Submerge the cut leeks in a large bowl of cold water. Begin to separate the rings with your fingers to loosen them and stir in the water. this will release any dirt that is lodged between layers. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes in the bowl undisturbed. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl. As gently as you can, begin to lift the leeks out of the water with your hands and transfer them to a colander. Rinse them again under running water. Don't  tip the bowl into the colander or your efforts to clean the leeks will be wasted !

See the sandy grit when I open up the leek.......

Leeks chopped into 1/4 pieces..........

Leeks submerged in large basin of water...............

Separating layers of leek to release all the dirt................


Cut the chicken breast or thighs into bite sized pieces. 
Add chicken, stock and bay leaves to a large pot and bring to the boil.
Skim any foam that rises to the surface.
Reduce heat and simmer, covered, skimming as necessary, for 30 minutes.
Add the rice and leeks, bring the pot to boil again, reduce heat and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Discard bay leaves and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve hot, garnished with fresh parsley.

NOTE :  My Homemade Crusty Bread goes fabulously with this soup !

This soup is perfect for dreich [miserable] winter weather, no matter where you live !!
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Herb Suet Dumplings with Beef Stew

I just love this time of year with season changes, and anticipation of Autumn. We've had a few rough storms come through our way over the past couple of weeks, which have set me on course to rummage through my recipes for cozy comfort food. 
Beef Stew is always welcome in our house....we love our meat ! 
To bump up the comfort level, I add Herb Suet Dumplings to the pot, 30 minutes before the stew is ready.

These little beauties are stick to the ribs satisfying !!

What is Suet ? I hear you ask !!
 Basically, it is fat from around an animals kidneys. It is solid and white with a high melting point. It is an essential ingredient in Traditional Christmas Mincemeat, and a hand-full of other British Dishes. For these purposes, it must be ground/grated quite finely.

You may be more familiar with the use of Suet as bird feeders today!

You won't see it on the shelf at the grocery store, so what you need to do is ask your butcher for it. Trust me ...he will know what you are talking about. He will also grind it for you, unless you want to buy the whole piece and grind it yourself at home ! I usually buy a couple of pounds of it at a time and freeze it.

Here is an image of solid suet....I know...gross !!!!

And here it is ground.....

Here is a wonderful article on Jennifer McLagan's Blog, which gives a further explanation and expert advice on how to cook with Suet. I highly recommend visiting her, she currently has four books published such as 'Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal' and has appeared on several television shows in Canada.

Now for the Beef Stew....There are as many recipes as there are pebbles on a beach. Many families have their own tried and true recipes passed down through generations. Mine is one of those, but has never actually been written down. I really just eyeball it as my Mum did. 
I do not add any overpowering ingredients to this stew, such as garlic, wine, tomato, or any herbs. The flavour from the Herb Dumplings stands on it's own. 

Here is a recipe from Campbell's Kitchen that most resembles the simple dish that I make. I would double this recipe and omit the potatoes and herbs.
Feel free to use your own favourite Beef Stew recipe of-course...but keep it simple ! 

Herb Dumpling Recipe


4oz Self-Raising Flour
2oz Shredded Beef Suet
1 tsp Mixed Dried Herbs [Italian Seasoning]
Salt and Pepper to taste
Cold Water to Mix [2/3 tbsp]


Mix the flour, suet, herbs, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
Add cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.
If it is too sticky, just add a little more flour.
With floured hands, portion the dough into approx one inch balls. 
30 minutes before your stew is ready, add the dumplings to the broth, and cook for the remainder of the time.
And there you have it !!
I like to serve it in a deep bowl with some crusty bread to sop up all the gravy !

Dough mixed together....

In the pot..........[ a little steamy on the lens !!!]...they plump up almost immediately you drop them in !!

Ready to serve........

Get the bowls out and enjoy.......COMFORT FOOD MAXIMIZED !!!!

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