Traditional Scottish Cullen Skink

Scottish Cullen Skink topped with pieces of flaky smoked haddock in soup bowls

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Infuse Time: 5 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Yield: 5 to 6 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
386 Calories
18g Fat
20g Carbs
35g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 386
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 10g 49%
Cholesterol 131mg 44%
Sodium 1366mg 59%
Total Carbohydrate 20g 7%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 10g
Protein 35g
Vitamin C 15mg 75%
Calcium 268mg 21%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 945mg 20%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Cullen skink, one of Scotland's most famous dishes, is a hearty soup that is traditionally made with smoked haddock. The name of this soup comes from Cullen, a small town in the northeast of Scotland. Skink is the Scottish term for a knuckle, shin, or hough of beef, so most soups made of these parts were called skink. When people in northern Scotland were unable to find scraps of beef due to economic strains but had plenty of fish to cook with, and smoked haddock was found everywhere, meat stews transformed into fish-based soups, but the name skink stuck.

In this version of the famous recipe, mashed potatoes add thickness and creaminess, while in other versions, the potatoes are added in chunks. The best potatoes for our skink would be waxier types rather than those traditionally used for mash.

This Cullen skink recipe is also known as smoked haddock chowder in other parts of Britain, and both dishes are very similar.​ This recipe is also a gluten-free dish as the only thickener used are potatoes.

"The Cullen skink was amazing. Haddock is a fabulous flaky, mild, and tender fish, and the smokey notes of the finnan haddie (smoked haddock) give this soup its unique flavor. This is an incredibly easy dish that needs very little prep time. It was wonderful with a loaf of crusty artisan bread." —Diana Rattray

Cullen skink with smoked haddock (finnan haddie) / tester image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups milk

  • 1/4 cup parsley sprigs, leaves and stalks separated, more leaves for garnish

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 pound smoked haddock fillet, preferably not dyed

  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 8 ounces store-bought or homemade mashed potato, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Crusty bread, for serving, optional

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for traditional Scottish cullen skink recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Put the milk, parsley stalks, bay leaf, and the whole piece of haddock into a large saucepan.

    Milk, parsley stalks, bay leaf, and smoked haddock combined in a saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Set aside. 

    Parsley being finely chopped with a chef's knife on a wooden cutting board

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Bring the milk to a gentle boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to low simmer, about 3 minutes.

    Milk and haddock mixture heating up in a saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Remove the pan from the heat. Set aside for 5 minutes so the herbs and haddock infuse their flavors into the milk.

    Milk and haddock mixture being steeped in a saucepan off the heat

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Remove the haddock from the milk with a slotted spatula. Set aside.

    Haddock pieces being removed from saucepan with a slotted spoon and placed on a plate

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the herbs.

    Milk with aromatics being strained through a fine wire mesh sieve back into saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  8. In another large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the butter and the onion. Cook gently until the butter melts and the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the onion.

    Butter and onions being cooked yellow and soft in a saucepan and stirred with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  9. Add the infused milk and the potato to the onion-butter mixture. Stir until the potatoes dissolve and the soup thickens slightly.

    Milk and mashed potatoes added to butter-onion mixture in saucepan and stirred smooth with wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  10. Flake the smoked haddock into bite-size chunks, discarding any bones. Add to the soup.

    Flaked haddock pieces added to milk and potato mixture in the saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  11. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the chopped parsley and cook until the haddock is warmed through, about 5 minutes. Don't overstir, because the fish chunks might disintegrate.

    Chopped parsley added to the saucepan and being stirred with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  12. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt, as the fish will impart quite a salty flavor all on its own.

    Soup in saucepan with small bowls of salt and pepper to the side

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  13. Garnish the soup with the reserved parsley leaves and more freshly ground black pepper. Serve with crusty bread, if desired.

    Scottish cullen skink in large serving bowl and individual serving bowl, alongside baguette on plate

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

For a Classic Presentation

Sometimes Cullen skink is served with additional ingredients to make a more filling dish:

  • Top with a poached to add creaminess and fat.
  • A few lightly poached quail's eggs dropped into the soup before serving adds a touch of sophistication.

Recipe Variations

  • For a richer, creamier Cullen skink, replace 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the milk with light or heavy cream.
  • The mashed potatoes thicken the soup, but you may also add 1 or 2 cups of diced cooked potatoes for texture if you wish.
  • Replace the onion with 1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped.
  • For more fish flavor, add a cube of fish bouillon.
  • A can of sweet corn added to the soup gives texture and provides a sweet flavor.

How to Properly Store and Reheat Cullen Skink

As with all fish and dairy-based dishes, proper storage is key to maintaining food safety

  • If you have leftovers and are planning to eat them shortly, store the soup in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to two days. Warm up on the stove over low heat. Do not save any leftovers from this serving.
  • For longer-term storage, place it in freezer bags and freeze the soup for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before heating up on the stove.
  • When reheating, do not boil the soup. With sudden changes in temperature, the fish's texture can be altered and go from flaky to rubbery in minutes.
  • If the reheated soup seems too thick, add milk and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Is finnan haddie the same as smoked haddock?

Yes, finnan haddie is smoked haddock. The name is thought to have originated in Findon, near Aberdeen in Scotland. "Haddie" is slang for haddock.