What Is Cullen Skink?

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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Cullen skink is a soup made with potatoes, onions, and smoked fish in a base of butter, milk, and fresh cream. The recipe originates from a town called Cullen in Scotland. Cullen skink is a traditional Scottish food often served to begin a formal meal. It is often garnished with parsley, thyme, or basil and served with bread sticks or toast. This dish is somewhat similar to a chowder because it is creamy, but the mashed potatoes mixed in give it qualities closer to potato soup.

This dish is made by cooking some elements separately and combining them at the end. When the cullen skink is made, generally, the fish is cooked into a stock, then the stock is seasoned and thickened with mashed potatoes and carmelized chopped onions. The haddock is simmered in hot milk until the fish meat begins to separate from the bones and skin. After the fish meat separates, the bones and skin are removed before adding herbs and mashed potatoes to the milk and flaked meat.

To prepare cullen skink, the mashed potatoes are typically boiled and hand mashed at the same time the fish is cooked in the milk. Some preparations have mashed potatoes that have been pre-made. Variations of cullen skink also include corn kernels. Usually, the fresh cream is reserved until the end of the cooking process, when it is added to adjust and smooth the thickness and texture of the soup.


The fish used in cullen skink is called Finnan Haddie, which is a type of smoked haddock that comes from a town called Findon. When Finnan Haddie is not available, cooks can substitute any smoked haddock that has not been dyed. It is extremely important in the traditional cullen skink recipe that the haddock is not dyed. Dyed haddock is easy to tell from undyed haddock because dyed haddock is an unnaturally bright yellow color. Haddock is a popular North Atlantic fish that is frequently used in fish and chips.

Cullen skink is a popular dish at traditional Scottish dinners. In Scotland, a skink is a soup made from beef shin bone and meat. Beef shin skink is similar to an Italian soup called osso busco. The main course at a traditional Scottish meal is often haggis, neeps, and tattis, or minced liver and onions cooked in a sheep's stomach served alongside mashed turnips and potatoes. A common traditional formal dessert is Cranachan, a creamy, pudding-like dessert topped with fresh tart fruit like raspberries.


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