Time Travel and Scottish Cocks

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

I’ve got a huge, throbbing nerdy crush on two things right now – Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor and the shiny new Outlander TV series based on Diana Gabaldon’s books.

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In celebration of both involving time travel and Scotland, Kitchen Overlord is indulging in a week of Scottish recipes worthy of a place on your temporally misplaced table.

Since this is the internet, there’ll also be at least one cock.

chicken cock

Scottish Cock-A-Leekie Stew

1 cock (or 3 pounds of assorted bone-in chicken pieces)
½ tbsp fat (oil, butter, lard, or whatever you like)
4 leeks
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 carrots
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine, light beer, or ½ cup water and ½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
12 pitted prunes, halved
1 cup barley*

Modern recipes frequently try to dress this up into something schmancy, but in the mid 18th century, when Claire landed in the Scottish highlands, this would’ve been cheap, easy peasant food. Wine was for fancy folks who could afford French imports. Most commoners both drank and cooked with ale or beer. Sugar and even honey were also expensive treats, so everyday foods were sweetened with dried fruit.

Outlander 2014

Meat was too expensive for daily meals, so a lot of country stews were made out of cocks. Those tough, cheap, old bastards could handle hours of boiling hot attention without falling apart under the pressure.

Even after discreetly asking my butcher, I couldn’t find any cocks at either of my local grocery stores, so I left with a Franken-Cadaver of assorted discount chicken parts which I solemnly swore not to sew back together and animate on the internet.

DOING IT HARD

Heat some oil in a nice, heavy dutch oven. While that’s warming up, skin your cock so it’s a sleek, streamlined thing of fleshy beauty.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Don’t give into the temptation to substitute boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You’ll get a kinda sorta okay soup, but you’ll be missing out on so much richness. Bones make soup better. Remember, historically, this recipe was created to eke out the most flavor and nutrition from the cheapest ingredients around. Trust your grandmother’s grandmother to know how to stretch a penny.

Once you’ve skinned your chicken parts, brown those bad boys in your dutch oven or a hearty stewpot.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

While they cook, slice the white and palest green portion of the leeks into neat little rings. Go ahead and giggle to yourself as you try to resist calling the results cock rings. Chop up the garlic as a distraction.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Since it’ll take awhile to brown all sides of the chicken, go ahead and peel and dice your carrots now. If you’re extra ambitious, you can even quarter your prunes and set them aside.

Once the chicken goes from fleshy pinkness to a firm, tanned brown, slide it out of the dutch oven and onto a waiting plate.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Add the leeks and garlic and stir it all into the chicken drippings. Make sure to scrape up any tasty brown bits forming at the bottom. Cook the aromatic veggies for 2-3 minutes, or until they give up the fight and turn into limp putty under your loving ministrations.

Now drown them in the broth. If you’re being historically accurate, you’ll add a cup of whatever beer you have around. If you’re a Francophile, you can add a cup of white wine instead. If you don’t partake of alcohol, you’ll still need a little acidity in the mix, so add the water and apple cider vinegar.

Give it all a good stir, then add the basil, thyme, and bay leaves.

Turn it up to high and bring that mess to a boil.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Once it’s boiling, pile in all your carrot pieces. Arrange your chicken pieces on top of the carrots, turn the heat down to medium-low, and put a lid on your pot. Let it simmer, undisturbed, for an hour.

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Brace yourself. When you come back, take off the lid and take a deep breath. While your nose thanks you, stop for a second and admire just how much the liquid’s color changed in that last hour. You won’t get that kind of flavor and color from boneless breast meat.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Carefully lift your chicken pieces out of the dutch oven and give the remaining contents another good stir. Now add the prunes and barley. (See * for Paleo and Gluten Free modifications)

I happen to like fruit in my meat courses. This is a good thing for a trained historian and food writer, as that was an insanely popular combination for centuries. Fruits and meats have gone out of fashion in the last hundred years or so, but i this case, I encourage you to make an exception. Rather than making the stew sweet, like dried apricots, the prunes add a rich earthiness to the final flavor. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Let the barley and prunes simmer in the liquid for half an hour. This happens to be the perfect amount of time to let the chicken cool enough for you to touch it. Once you can rip into the chicken without burning yourself, shred it into chunks.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Add the shredded chicken to the brothy mix and give it another good stir. Put the lid back on the pot and let it continue happily simmering away for another 20 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the stew has thickened.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

Serve with hearty brown peasant bread.

Like most soups, this will be even better on the second and third day.

Scottish Highland Cock-A-Leekie Stew

EASY AS SUNDAY MORNING

If you’re lacking in time, patience, or a dutch oven, there is an easier, less historically accurate way to make a hearty stew that’s about 85% as good while also being a ton less work. That’s right. It’s time to get out your crockpot.

I’m particularly fond of crockpot dishes in the summer. You can have a hot, easy meal without turning your home into a hot, sweaty nightmare. Everybody wins.

To make the crockpot version, first smear the bottom of your crockpot with half a tablespoon of your favorite oil. Now pile on the carrots first, then the leeks, then the garlic. Put the bay leaves on top of the vegetables.

You still have to skin your chicken parts. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a greasy mess. Once the parts are skinned, stack them on top of the veggies.

Sprinkle the basil, thyme, and pepper over the skinned chicken parts. Now pour in your broth and beer/wine/water-and-vinegar. Make sure you have at least three inches of clearance at the top of your crockpot. If not, remove some of the liquid.

Set it to low and come back in 7-8 hours. Don’t worry if you have a long commute. As long as you use the bone-in chicken parts, the contents of your crockpot will be perfectly fine if you come back in 9 or more hours. (If you try to substitute boneless, skinless breasts, they’ll end up way overcooked in that much time. Trust me. Use the cheaper chicken parts and you’ll end up with a tastier stew.)

I call this the Easy As Sunday Morning version because you can sleep in until 10 am, throw everything in the crockpot, then not worry about it until 5 and still have dinner on the table at 6.

Where’d that extra hour go, you wonder? To the barley! An hour before serving, carefully remove the chicken parts. Replace the meat with barley and prunes, give it a good stir, then put the lid back on and turn the heat to high. Set a timer for one hour.

When the chicken is cool enough to touch, rip the flesh from the bones. Dump that flesh into the crockpot and let it soak in all the delicious juices while the barley cooks. In an hour, the barley will be tender and your highland themed dinner will be ready for your rustic table.

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GLUTEN FREE/PALEO VARIATIONS

* If you’re on a gluten free diet, plenty of Scottish people today use rice instead of barley. Substitute one cup of your favorite rice. If you want the chewiness of barley, use brown rice instead of white.

Paleo/primal folks can leave out the grain entirely and still end up with a rich, hearty stew. The barley is a thickener as well as a bulking agent, so if you leave it out, add 2-3 more carrots and perhaps a parsnip or turnip. When you remove the chicken parts, also remove a strained cup of vegetables and mash the heck out of them with a fork. Add the mashed vegetables back to the stew along with the shredded chicken. Give it all a good stir and let it keep cooking for another half an hour. The end result should still be a pleasantly thick, earthy highland stew.

chicken cock soup

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