Cullen Skink Smoked Haddock Soup

  • Light Lunches
  • Starters (Appetizers)
  • Winter

Cullen Skink, a Scottish classic dish of Smoked Haddock soup or chowder made with potatoes and onion.

Often served on Scottish occasions such as Burn’s Night or Saint Andrew’s Night or simply in many Scottish restaurants. French friends particularly love this for something deliciously different as a starter in Winter.

Cullen Skink or Scottish Smoked Haddock Soup

What is Cullen Skink?

Cullen Skink is a classic Scottish soup or chowder. It’s traditionally made using Finnan Haddie (Finnan Haddock), a cold-smoked haddock known for its smoking methods in North-East Scotland. However, most of the time it’s made with undyed smoked haddock, potatoes and onion.

Why is it called Cullen Skink?

Why is this smoked haddock soup called Cullen SkinkSkink is an old Scots word for soup or an essence – as it’s wonderfully strong and flavourful. Cullen is a small fishing village on the Moray Firth on the North-East coast of Scotland, where haddock is particularly popular.

cullen skink ingredients

I’ve been ‘bowled over’ (groan!) to discover that French friends find it an impressive dish served as a starter. It’s perhaps not just the comforting thickness and creaminess of the soup but the smoky fragrance just gives it that something extra special.

I’ll also let you in to a cunning secret: I serve small to medium-sized portions of this to start the meal, leaving friends wanting just a bit more.

Recipes for Cullen Skink vary. In Scottish restaurants, I’ve had light versions but overloaded with cubes of potato with not much fish.  I’ve also had extra thick versions, loaded with rich cream that by the time the main dish arrived, I’d had my fill.

My favourite way of making this has been a mix of many different approaches: I simply poach the fish in semi-skimmed milk and use no cream – and no water either. I only half blitz it with the hand mixer until smooth and creamy, so leave some chunks of potato.

Scottish purists may scream, but I make it using a leek (we love leeks!) but if you prefer to make Cullen Skink the traditional way, use an onion instead.

What is Smoked Haddock in French?

Ideally traditional Scottish recipes call for Finnan haddock or undyed smoked haddock fillets.  As it’s not that easy to find them in France, I take the only smoked haddock I can find, simply called “Haddock” (pronounced ‘addock – the French don’t pronounce the ‘H’). Years ago, when I called it Haddock Fumé with my Jane Birkin accent, I was corrected. So, just saying.

If you want plain, unsmoked haddock in France, it’s known as Eglefin.

smoked haddock fish cakes

My tartare sauce ended up like the map of Corsica!

More Smoked Haddock Recipes

When I asked our local fishmonger in Saint-Germain-en-Laye for some smoked haddock, this lovely French lady behind me in the queue suddenly asked me what I did with it.
So, this is for you, chère Madame, as I promised you the recipe – even if it’s in English.

You can also make delicious smoked haddock fish cakes with it too.

How do You Make a Cullen Skink?

I couldn’t resist saying that, as it sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? Here’s how to make a Cullen Skink, or a Scottish Smoked Haddock Soup/Chowder from scratch.

how to make cullen skink soup

Put the smoked haddock, bay leaf and parsley in a large pan and pour over the milk.

Cover and poach very gently over a low heat for about 10 minutes (you don’t want to overcook the fish otherwise it will turn rubbery).

Take out the fish to cool on a plate, then add the potatoes and leeks (or onion) until cooked. Blitz then flake in the fish.

Cullen Skink Scottish Smoked Haddock soup recipe

Scottish Cullen Skink Soup (Smoked Haddock Chowder)

Author: Jill Colonna
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course : Appetizer, Soup, Starter, Light Lunch
Cuisine : Scottish
Keyword : Cullen skink, Scottish soup, smoked fish chowder, smoked haddock soup
Servings : 4 people
Calories : 180kcal


Scottish classic recipe for Cullen Skink, a smoked haddock chowder from the Scottish fishing village of Cullen


  • 300 g (10.5oz) Smoked haddock
  • 900 ml (1.5 pints) semi-skimmed milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 stalk parsley
  • 1 leek, white part only (or an onion) finely chopped
  • 400 g (1-2) potatoes see notes*
  • 1/2 tbsp chives finely cut (for decor)
  • salt/pepper to taste


  • Put the smoked haddock, bay leaf and parsley in a large pan and pour over the milk.
    Cover and poach very gently over a low heat for about 10 minutes (you don't want to overcook the fish otherwise it will turn rubbery).
  • Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate to cool.  Throw in the chopped potato and leek, cover and leave to cook gently until soft for 15-20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, take off the fish skin and flake the fish with your fingers, removing any bones.
  • Remove the bay leaf and parsley from the pan then blitz the soup with a hand blender (or transfer to a liquidiser or food processor).  Add some pepper (a few turns of the pepper mill) and stir in the flaked smoked haddock and gently heat.
  • Snip some chives with scissors, adding into the soup or to decorate.


Potatoes: if you like your soup chunky, then use waxy potatoes like Charlotte - otherwise if blending to a smooth chowder, use a floury potato such as Binje. See more on the Potato Market page.

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Reviews (15)

Hi am a fan of Cullen Skink – enjoying the occasional tin of a famous Speyside family’s gourmet soup or choosing off a menu when out. I live I inland from Cullen and are lucky to have a couple of fish vans which visit our area weekly. I found your recipe online and will give it a go – I’m confident it will be delicious……. thanks for the guidance!

Hi Dawn, I’m so happy you found this recipe! What with living near Cullen and with fresh fish on wheels – I can’t think of a more pleasurable way to enjoy this smoky Scottish soup. Have a delicious weekend.

I wonder what my grandmother would have thought of the discovery of Cullen Skink! My mother’s family, back down through the generations, were fisher folk on the Moray Firth coast, in the next village along from Cullen. Fishermen in those days didn’t make the huge profits of today, or have the vast trawlers. Often my grandfather would return from a hazardous fishing trip round the north of Scotland with no money to give my grandmother for housekeeping. Cullen Skink was a staple in the household, and though basic, I have never found its match in a restaurant now that it has become fashionable. The basic recipe was a mix of smoked and unsmoked haddock, onions, potatoes, Carnation evaporated milk, water, salt and pepper. Never blended – the potatoes were cooked to the point where they started to disintegrate.

Linda, thank you so much for sharing your family history with us here – and so appropriate around the village of Cullen. How fascinating! My mother’s family was also from a generation down the line of fisherfolk from Musselburgh and my grandfather sold fish from a van going down the coast from Portobello to Prestonpans. I know how this soup is more fashionable these days and no doubt not quite the same as the traditional basic but I love it to (sorry) bits! Wishing you a very Happy and delicious 2017.

I’m loving this recipe Jill. I’m going to make it this weekend. My mouth’s watering already.

Wonderful, Liz! Enjoy an extended St Andrew’s night – bon weekend x

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