Food and drink

A local classic – Cullen Skink


I always want to feature more Scottish food, especially recipes from the north-east where I’ve lived my whole life. Cullen is a small village on the Moray coast, north of Aberdeen which is famous for one particular dish. A soup made of fish, milk, tatties and onion – Cullen Skink.

This is a very simple dish to make. You can knock it up in under half an hour if you’re efficient and have everything ready to go. I had a read through my books and found I had at least 5 recipes for this in my small collection. Most of them followed the same general pattern, with the River Cottage Fish book deviating the most and Leith’s Cookery Bible strangely adding tomato into the mix. The recipe below most closely follows Nick Nairn’s from New Scottish Cookery.

I’ve never tried making this before and it’s not even a dish I’ve eaten much of in the past, but I fancied giving it a go anyway. The biggest problem I had was that I kept turning the heat up to get the milk boiling quicker (too impatient) and then I’d get distracted by something online only for the soup to rudely remind me of the task in hand by the sound, and smell, of burning milk as it boils over. This happened very quickly, especially once the fish went in the pot so please bear it in mind.

I also burnt my fingers peeling the skin off the fish. You might want to let it cool a bit longer before doing that step.

The result is delicious and hearty. It’s a perfect winter soup and can be low in fat, like this version, or made more luxurious with the addition of butter when frying the onion and double cream stirred in at the end. One word of warning though, you won’t be very popular if you do as I did and take in leftovers to heat up in the office microwave! Fishy milk soup might taste amazing but it’s smell when re-heated is definitely not to everyone’s taste in an office environment.

Serves 4

1 onion, chopped
450g smoked haddock
350g new potatoes
600ml (1 pint) milk
300ml water
Parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf

Gently fry the onion with a little oil in a large saucepan for 5 minutes until soft
Pour in the milk and water then add the bay leaf and potatoes.
Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the tatties are just turning tender
Cut the haddock into large chunks and add it to the pot then simmer it for another 10 minutes or just until the fish is cooked and the tatties are very soft.
Once the fish is ready, gently lift it out and set it aside to cool.
Fish out the bay leaves.
Crush the potatoes gently with a tattie masher, peel the skin from the fish and flake it back into the soup.
Bring it back up to heat, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary then stir in the parsley and serve with oatcakes or fresh, crusty bread.

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4 thoughts on “A local classic – Cullen Skink”

  1. Lou you’re so fast at replying to these! Thanks!

    It was the first time I’d made it and possibly the first time I’d tasted it, though while typing this up I got a vague memory of my Gran making it when I was wee.

    I’ve always been more of a lentil or pea and ham fan when it comes to soup, but I can definitely see me making this again. But I might not take the leftovers to work next time.

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