It was half an hour into the performance when fourteen year old Lewis whispered to me: “Miss, is this seriously two and a half hours of singing and dancing cats?”  When I nodded an affirmative his eyes widened then momentarily flicked towards the lit green exit sign to my right.

“Don’t even think about it,” I hissed threateningly.  “If I have to sit through this, so do you.”

Cats, it turned out, really wasn’t my cup of tea at all.  Cracking songs, great dancing and a jaw-droppingly beautiful set, but my imagination simply wasn’t captured.  Luckily, myself and bored Lewis were in the minority; the vast majority of the kids adored the performance and were high as kites afterwards.  Even caught a few of them today walking down corridors humming Magical Mr Mistoffelees.  Love it!  🙂

Despite my misgivings about Cats, I felt like a feline themed dinner this evening.  What do cats like, I wondered.  Fish and milk, of course. And fish and milk can mean only one thing to a Scot: Cullen Skink.

Cullen Skink is a hearty, Scottish fish soup.  It’s namesake, Cullen, is an adorable maritime village on the north-east coast, not too far from here.  What “skink” means, I’m not sure.  Some books claim it is from the Gaelic meaning “essence” but when I asked a Gaelic speaker about this today she claimed that was rubbish and that perhaps it was from a Norse language.  Chatted to a Swedish friend but all to no avail: I am still none the wiser.  Anyone out there know?

Cullen Skink

(serves 2 as a main, 6 as a starter)

Knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 undyed, naturally smoked haddock fillets

1 pint of milk

1 bay leaf

1 very large potato, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes

Double cream (25 – 50ml)



  • Melt the butter in a heavy based pan.  Add the onion and celery and cook gently until softened.
  • Add the haddock fillets to the pan and just cover with milk.  Bring up to simmering point and cook for 4 minutes.
  • Remove the fish from the pan and reserve. 
  • Add the potatoes to the pan and the remaining milk.  Bring up to simmering point and cook for 10 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.
  • Meanwhile, flake the haddock fillets using your hands. 
  • When potatoes are cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove some potato/onion/celery chunks from the soup. 
  • Add most of haddock to the soup, reserving a little with the vegetable chunks.
  • Liquidise the soup until silky smooth. Season very carefully and add cream to taste.  Heat gently then pour into bowls.
  • Add some of the vegetable chunks and haddock to the soup and sprinkle with chives.

31 thoughts on “Miaow

  1. Simple, hearty good food. This is a must make recipe if I’ve ever read one. And, it may very well be the most entertainingly-named food item I’ve heard of recently.

  2. Well, I’m none the wiser, but will keep checking back in case someone can answer it.

    Cats? I hate musicals. I have tried. Believe me.

    I’m sure T.S Eliot’s cats would be more than happy to receive a bowl of this. Love smoked haddock…

  3. Cynthia – No, its not a very nice name. Never thought of that before!

    Rosa – Let me know how it goes…

    Christine – Glad to hear it. 🙂

    Christina – I’m so used to the name I’ve never really though about how weird it sounds! Feel like I’m hearing it for the first time again.

    Lucy – Hoping it will be answered too. I’m quite partial to an occasional musical but it must have a good story to it. Singing and dancing alone does nothing for me.

  4. Hi Wendy, I was also disappointed when I saw CATS many years ago in London. I was so pumped up but it didn’t meet my expectations. My all time fav musical is Les Miserables. I sang the songs for many weeks after ( i don’t think my family appreciated that, lol!).

    I am curious about the origin of this soup, but I’m afraid I know nothing about it. Chives in a creamy soup is yummy!

  5. Nora – “Les Mis” is my favourite too! Goodness, did I cry at that one…
    The chives in the soup work really nicely but they aren’t traditional.

  6. Sorry you didn’t like Cats. I have never seen it and have never been sure if I would like it either.

    Les Mis is absolutely my favorite and I have been lucky enough to have my girls play in it (as little Cosette, and the other daughter as the understudy) and also to see it in London.

    I love the soup name too! It’s interesting to read about Scottish cooking since my daughter will be going to Scotland this year.

  7. This is one of my favourite soups. I have just made a smoked fish pie which has the same comforting qualitites, I guess, but I am rather wishing I had made your soup instead!
    I love musicals but was similarly disappointed by Cats. Glad I’m not the only one.

  8. Betty C – “Les Mis” is my favourite too! It’s wonderful.

    Antonia – I adore fish pie. May have to make it this week now you’ve put the idea into my head… 🙂

  9. Too bad about “Cats”. I have heard alot about it but have not attended.
    Your soup sounds so comforting and looks so smooth! The fish stew I make is tomato based. I must try yours!

  10. Ah, so this is the famous Cullen Skink you referred to in a comment you left on my blog. Looks creamy and robust. Intrigued, as always, I found a NY Times article on it. I’ll email it to you. It’s a lot of fun even if it doesn’t exactly answer skink’s origin – hard as it tries to.

  11. I love Cullen Skink! Yum! I ate it as often as I could when I was in Scotland – you Scots really have the best named soups – Cock-a-Leekie, Cullen Skink, etc. Great stuff!

    I speak Norwegian and I don’t recognize the word, so I am not sure about the Norse bit, but I think this is worth further research! We HAVE to know what it means!

    Oh and I didn’t love Cats when I saw it either – but I love actual cats. 🙂

  12. I’m no musical fan *at all* in general. But I did have a lovely time with Singin’ in the rain some weeks ago – and I do love the movie! – it was years ago I saw Cats, but I think I quite liked it. It was a good casting and that Memories-ballade brings me to tears every single time…

    That soup sounds delicious!

  13. Skink is swedish for ham, also shared with a North American Lizard (Though I doubt the lizard has anything to do with this soup. :D)

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  15. Wendy, I would love to make this soup, but can’t get smoked haddocks here in Vancouver. Your Aunt Anne and Uncle Campbell did, however, take my daughter, Avril and I for lunch and I had smoked haddock with mashed potatoes two years ago when we were in Scotland (my homeland).

    I love your blog. Your pictures are great. Only problem – makes me homesick!!!

    June Sullivan

    • Hello June! Thanks for the lovely comments. You could try the soup with another smoked white fish, perhaps? It’s the smokey flavour that is particularly distinctive.

  16. Pingback: Finnan Haddie Tart (And Exciting News) | A Wee Bit of Cooking

  17. Just 12 years late to the party, but for what it’s worth…

    Skink is a Scots word for a shin, knuckle, or hough of beef, which has developed the secondary meaning of a soup, especially one made from these. The word skink is ultimately derived from the Middle Dutch schenke “shin, hough”.

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