This cock-a-leekie recipe appears in Scottish cookbooks dating from the sixteenth century.
Cock-a-leekie is a soup in which the chicken and shin of beef used to make the delicious broth are sliced back into the soup, to which are added leeks and plump prunes.
I have a much-prized edition of The Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Mistress Margaret (Meg) Dods, published in MDCCCXXXVII (1837), in which the author firmly rejects the prunes. ‘Prunes used to be put to this soup. The practice is obsolete.’ I am just as convinced that the prunes are essential. They complement the sweetness of the leeks, add complexity to the broth and look sensational: dark floating shapes among the white, brown and green.
1 kg beef shin (gravy beef), chopped on the bone
2 litres water
1.5 kg leeks, trimmed
18 prunes, stoned
1 chicken, 2 kg
freshly ground black pepper
Put beef into a stockpot with water. Bring to a boil, skim, and simmer for 3 hours, partly covered.
While beef is simmering, slice half the leeks lengthwise, then wash and drain well and tie in a bundle with a thread. Slice remaining leeks into 1 cm rings, then wash well, drain and set aside. If prunes are hard and wizened, pour boiling water over and leave for 1 hour. Drain, reserving water.
Add chicken and bundle of leeks to pot and simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered. Add prunes and any reserved soaking water and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and lift out beef and chicken. Discard skin of chicken and bones from beef. Discard bundle of leeks. Cut chicken and beef into bite-sized pieces and return meat to pot with sliced leek. Bring back to simmering point and cook for 5 minutes until leek is tender. Adjust seasoning and serve soup in wide bowls, so that diners can enjoy the colours as well as the rising aromas.