Learn how to make this simple creamy smoked fish soup from Scotland.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 people
Gluten/Soy free and Pesco/Lacto vegetarian
Cullen Skink is a delicious Scottish fish soup made with Finnan Haddie or smoked cod, potatoes, milk, cream, herbs, and spices. Simple yet truly delicious!
I fell in love with this soup while visiting Scotland in 2017. I remember the place I had it for the first time: The Cellar Door in Old Town Edinburgh. It was creamy, it had smoked tones...I instantly needed to know how to make it. It was so simple yet so full of the right notes. It was Scotland on a plate.
Traditional formal Scottish dinners serve this soup as one of the beginning courses, which is quite surprising seeing it has its origins in the humble and picturesque fishing village of Cullen, Moray. Such a simple soup with so much heart.
There are many recipes out there of Cullen Skink. All agree on one thing: undyed smoked fish is the best for it.
What is Cullen Skink?
This soup is a local speciality, from the town of Cullen in Moray, on the northeast coast of Scotland. It is often served as a starter at formal Scottish dinners but is also widely served as an everyday dish across the northeast of Scotland.
Local recipes for Cullen skink have several slight variations, such as the use of milk instead of water or the addition of single cream. Other variations include mashing the potatoes to make the soup thicker. Cullen skink was traditionally served with bread.
Cullen skink appears in many traditional Scottish cookery books and restaurant and hotel menus throughout Scotland, the rest of the UK and abroad. In 2012 a Guardian columnist described the dish as "the milky fish soup which has surely replaced your haggises and porridges as Scotland's signature dish".
What ingredients will I need to make Cullen Skink?
Finnan Haddie or smoked cod, golden potatoes, a sweet onion, milk, heavy cream, bay leaves, garlic, unsalted butter, salt & pepper, fresh chives, and nutmeg.
What is Finnan Haddie?
Finnan haddie (also known as Finnan haddock, Finnan, Finny haddock or Findrum speldings) is cold-smoked haddock, representative of a regional method of smoking with green wood and peat in north-east Scotland. Its origin is the subject of a debate, as some sources attribute the origin to the hamlet of Findon, Aberdeenshire, (also sometimes called Finnan) near Aberdeen, while others insist that the name is a corruption of the village name of Findhorn at the mouth of the River Findhorn in Moray.
The "dispute" goes back to the eighteenth century, although it is hard to trace, as adherents fail to acknowledge even the possibility of the alternative view (except for the etymology note in the Oxford English Dictionary). A testimonial in an early 20th century Boston cookbook describes the origin from a fire in a fish curing house in Portlethen, very near Findon. It may have been a popular dish in Aberdeenshire since at least as early as the 1640s.
Although known and admired in Scotland for a long time, Finnan haddie became a popular food item in London only in the 1830s. In earlier times, because of the light smoking that the fish received, it did not have a long shelf life—by most contemporary estimates, at most three days (although some suggested no more than one day). Thus, although the fish was often available in Aberdeen "within twelve hours of being [caught]", the distance to London was at that time nearly insurmountable if spoilage was to be avoided. The fish started making its first appearances in London when shipped by established mail coach, but became widely available with the construction of the railway link connecting Aberdeen to London in the 1840s. The association with Findon became strong because of the Aberdeen connection. Occasionally, confusion was so deep that Findon was referred to as Findhorn.
Finnan has a long association with the traditional Scottish fish soup, Cullen skink and most old Scottish recipe books cite Finnan haddie as the smoked haddock to be used for this dish.
The traditional preparation is to roast or grill the whole pieces of fish over high heat. Finnan haddie is also often served poached in milk for breakfast and is an important part of traditional kedgeree and the Arnold Bennett omelette.
What else will I need to make this dish?
A large pot, measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, and a cutting board and knife.
Can I make any substitutions?
Yes. You can substitute the Finnan Haddie with smoked cod. Do not used dyed smoked fish.
1 pound of Finnan Haddie (moked haddock) or smoked cod, cut into small pieces
5 golden potatoes , peeled and cut into small cubes
1 large sweet onion onion, chopped
3 cups of milk
1/2 cup of heavy Cream
2 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup of Unsalted Butter
salt & pepper
chives to garnish
Pinch of nutmeg
In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter.
Add onions and cook until translucent.
Add the potatoes, milk, cream, bay leaves, salt & pepper to taste, and garlic.
Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
When potatoes are soft to the touch, add the Finnan Haddie or smoked cod, and a pinch of nutmeg.
Cook for 20 minutes.
Serve hot and garnish with chives.
Printable Recipe (PDF) below: