A Scottish chicken soup recipe with a cheeky name for chilly spring nights –

Cock-a-Leekie Soup (Chicken and Leek Soup with Barley)

Active time:20 mins

Total time:2 hours

Servings:4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)

Active time:20 mins

Total time:2 hours

Servings:4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)


Ever hear of a soup swap? I attended one for the first time recently and came home with new-to-me soup varieties, new friends, and plans to make soup-swapping a new tradition in my life.

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Here’s how it works: Each attendee makes six quarts of one type of soup (I made my Family Favorite Minestrone). Everyone gets together, sets out their soup containers and describes their contribution. Then, in six choosing rounds, one for each quart of soup brought, you pick a different soup from the lineup. I came home with a thrilling variety, including chicken gumbo, red lentil, and Cock-a Leekie, which inspired this recipe. It was my first time trying the traditional Scottish soup, which I find as fun to say as it is satisfying to cook and eat. True to its name, its main ingredients are chicken and leeks. From there, ingredients and preparations vary depending on whom you ask, but I did my best to approximate the version I received in the swap, a soothing tasty pot of goodness made with carrots, celery and barley in a homemade chicken stock.

Experiencing the transformation of the few simple ingredients involved makes cooking it incredibly satisfying. It takes a couple of hours, but it’s relatively hands off, so it’s ideal for a day you might be puttering around your home.

First you make a stock by simmering bone-in chicken thighs, leeks, carrot and celery, salt and a bay leaf in water for about an hour and a half. You could substitute chicken breast if you prefer, but it will not yield as rich of a stock, and would need a bit less cooking time so the meat doesn’t get tough. Ultimately, you strain the stock and pull the chicken off the bone to use in the soup.

Once the stock is done, you can continue to make the soup immediately, or refrigerate it overnight — or for up to 3 days — and, if you want a lighter broth, scrape off the fat that solidifies on top. Personally, I like to keep at least some of the fat for body and richness. You add more leeks, carrots and celery to the simmering stock, and then the barley and a touch of white pepper, and cook until everything is tender.

Finally, you toss in the chicken meat and serve the soup garnished with parsley. It’s a truly nourishing comfort food, which I enjoyed so much I plan to put in regular rotation, and might even bring to my next soup swap.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup (Chicken and Leek Soup with Barley)

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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  • 4 large leeks
  • 2 pounds skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
  • 12 ounces carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins
  • Two stalks celery, cut into large pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Water
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Remove and discard the coarse green parts of the leeks and trim off the roots. Halve the remaining white and light-green pieces of leek lengthwise. Wash them well to remove any sand or grit between the layers.

Place the chicken into a large soup pot along with one of the leeks (2 halves), the equivalent of about 1 of the carrots, the celery and bay leaf. Add enough water to cover everything by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the liquid is at a simmer, and skim the gray scum that might accumulate on the surface of the liquid. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, cover and cook until the chicken is tender and easily separates from the bone, about 1 1/2 hours.

Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Once it is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to separate the chicken meat from the bones and break it up into bite-size pieces. Discard the bones and skin.

Strain the broth to remove and discard any solids. (At this point, you can continue and finish the soup, or refrigerate the strained broth and the chicken in separate containers for up to 3 days. Once the broth is cold, you can scrape off the solidified fat on top if you prefer a leaner soup.)

Return the broth to the pot. Cut the remaining leeks into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and add them to the pot with the remaining carrots. Return the soup to a boil, and add the barley and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the barley and vegetables are tender and the broth is slightly reduced and concentrated, about 30 minutes more. Return the chicken to the pot, taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with parsley.

Per serving (2 cups), based on 6

Calories: 439; Total Fat: 24 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 127 mg; Sodium: 571 mg; Carbohydrates: 27 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 29 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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