Meades, ever the iconoclast, refuses to call this classic Cullen skink like everyone else. He has no problem with ‘skink,’ the Scots for haddock, but abhors the restaurant industry fondness attaching ‘place names’ like Cullen, a town on the Moray firth: “The supposition,” he grouses per his preferred persona,
“is that they legitimize a dish’s provenance. A dish then is not a creation, it’s natural, traditional; like folksongs and oak apple day it just happened to have happened without authorial invention, parthenogenetically.”
Whether or not this soup did arise like Athena from the head of Zeus, it is sublime; simple and satisfying, and as Meades also insists more generally, it requires no “re-interpreting…. The wheel has already been invented.” Whether or not so sweeping a claim survives much scrutiny, this wheel anyway has progressed to perfection or as close as anything the product of human hands gets to the state. Makes a boatload of soup.
- 2 lb skinless, boneless and roughly chopped smoked haddock
- 1 lb peeled and chopped floury potatoes (like Mainers or Idahoans)
- 2 quarts milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- heaped ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon powdered clove
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon mace
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
Dump everything in a double boiler (you will need to improvise unless you have a big one, which is fine) and cook it a the merest burble for 25 minutes. This is where Meades’ cautionary coda kicks in and it requires your every attention:
“Take care. Even with a double boiler there is a chance that it will boil over. What’s needed is constant attention and a very douce simmer--not a white apocalypse. Stir frequently…. The ingredients will have begun to disintegrate. They can be further mashed.”
-This first also from Meades: “Cooking the haddock for 10 minutes too long might seem excessive. The goal is to infuse everything with the flavour of the smoke.”
-He does not include any cayenne, or measures of spice and seasoning for that matter other than the warning to “go easy,” and substitutes nutmeg for our more traditionally British mace.
-The recipe may be halved at constant proportion.
-Meades includes a sound discussion of haddock farming and the dye dreaded by every other contemporary cookbook author:
“Skinks (haddocks) have, for over a century and a half, been intensively reaered in closed weel-puidges to the east of the town [of Skink]. Tis practice precurses battery farming and is routinely condemned by fish welfare groups such as CBHC. From a culinary point of view there is nothing to distinguish a farmed skink from a free-range one. Nor does vivid yellow dye detract from the flavour even though it is widely regarded as a gastronomic solecism.”
-The Dictionary of the Scots Language defines ‘weel’ as a deep pool in a river or stream, and ‘puidge’ as an enclosure or pen, so Meades has merely Scottified the term fish farm.
-His historical note does rather undercut his staunch assertion that all place names attached to recipes are fraudulent, but no matter. Meades is good company and his recipe is sound.