Scottish flavour: royal broth
THERE’S some dispute about how this soup got its name. Some say it is known as Soupe à la Reine, the Queen’s Soup. The reason behind its regal reference is said to denote its velvety richness and creamy white refinement compared with the muckle pots of robust, chunky, meaty, vegetable soups, that were once part of the Scots’ staple diet.
This smooth, white soup was a move towards a much more luxurious dish. Its other popular name refers to the region of France known as Lorraine, home of Mary of Guise, the wife of our Scottish King James V and mother of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Widowed at aged 21, Mary of Guise was betrothed to King James (himself a young widower) in a political and religious bid to create a Franco-Scottish alliance with the powerful House of Guise, against the English. Independence for a Catholic Scotland was their ultimate aim.
Scottish soups, or pottages, were made daily, large enough to serve a whole family, including any servants, in a typical working household.
It was customary for the head of a household to sit around the table for the midday meal, together with his workers and servants. It was the most important meal of the working day and the soup pot was put over the fire first thing every morning to cook slowly, in readiness.
These pottages were full of vegetables, herbs and a large piece of meat on the bone. Each person would slice some meat for their own plate and ladle the hot broth over it.
There is no doubt in my own mind, that the accepted Scottish custom of serving a bowl of soup for lunch is very much part of this culinary heritage.
We also know that both of the Queen Marys had a large number of French people in their Royal Courts, living in and around Edinburgh. Fostering what has become known as the Auld Alliance between the two countries, they influenced the Scots in several ways, with some old Scots words derived from the French tongue, still in use to this day.
This weekend, the town of Kinross is hosting a festival dedicated to Mary Queen of Scots’ long, but rather sad association with the area. Mary was held captive in Lochleven Castle, before finally escaping to England 450 years ago and abdicating the throne in favour of her son, James VI.
On my frequent drives between Skye and Edinburgh, I pass by Loch Leven in the distance, with the ancient stone tower of its castle on the island, surrounded by trees.
I remember going there as a child on day trips and longing to visit the castle, but this was not possible then.
After a sedate Sunday walk around the loch, I would sit on a bench and let my imagination paint pictures of what it must be like inside, while my parents read their books and newspapers.
Nowadays, there are boat trips to the island and a tour of the rooms that were once a bleak, unhappy prison.
So this soup is in honour of both Mary of Guise and her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, and their popular French influence in Scotland.
I scoured a few books to find the ultimate recipe but, although there are various references, there is not one which is specific.
This is my concoction, based upon those old recipes and knowledge that bread and almonds were often used to thicken soups and rustic dishes, as were rice, egg yolks and cream. A good, flavoursome, homemade chicken stock is essential.
SOUPE LORRAINE (Serves 8-12)
1 family-sized chicken, preferably Scottish, reared free-range (alternatively, buy 2 small breasts of good quality chicken) 125g ground almonds 125g white breadcrumbs made from a Scottish plain loaf 4 eggs, just hard-boiled 50g unsalted butter 1 large onion, finely chopped ½ medium bulb fresh fennel, finely chopped 2 large lemons, finely grated zest only Freshly grated nutmeg, plus salt and pepper for seasoning 850ml good quality chicken stock, preferably homemade (NB you may need a little more stock to adjust the final thickness of the soup) 275ml fresh double cream Method if using a whole chicken and making your own stock 1. Begin by roasting the chicken in the usual way. Once cooked and cooled, remove one whole breast plus the best of the leg meat. Remove all skin and chop finely. Set aside. Remove remaining meat from the chicken to use separately. 2. Place the chicken carcass in a large saucepan and make a stock using: one large onion, one large carrot, two celery sticks plus some leaves, white of one leek, half a medium fennel bulb plus any fronds, one lemon sliced, and fresh herbs such as parsley, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme. Add a few peppercorns and a sprinkling of sea salt, cover with cold water, plus 275ml dry white wine. Bring to boiling point, cover with a lid and simmer on a low heat for 1 hour 30 minutes minimum. Strain and reserve liquor for the soup. Method if using chicken breasts, plus stock cube 1. Place 275ml ready-made chicken stock in a wide, shallow saucepan. Add one sliced lemon, plus half a small onion peeled and sliced, two bay leaves, three large sprigs of parsley with stalks, two sprigs of lemon thyme, fronds of fennel if available, plus a few celery leaves taken from the centre of the bunch. Bring to boiling point and turn down heat. Place the chicken breast in the gently simmering stock to poach slowly, for around 10-15 minutes, depending upon thickness of the meat. 2. Once cooked right through, remove chicken and set aside. Strain the poaching liquor through a sieve into a large measuring jug or bowl and keep for making the soup. Method for making the Soup 1. Place yolks from the just hardboiled eggs, breadcrumbs, lemon zest and two tablespoons of chicken stock into a liquidiser or food processor and whizz to a thick paste. You may need to add a little more stock. Remove to a bowl and add a good grating of fresh nutmeg, some ground sea salt and pepper. Set aside. 2. Melt butter in a large saucepan and sauté the chopped vegetables until soft. Add ground almonds and mix well. Pour in chicken stock, bring to boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add egg and breadcrumb paste. Stir again. Allow soup to simmer for a further five minutes before adding cooked chicken. 3. Stir in the double cream. Bring back to simmering point and cook very gently for a further five minutes or so. The soup will begin to thicken as the cream heats, but take care to ensure it does not boil and split. Check seasoning. 4. At this stage, the soup can be liquidised once more to make it smoother. This is not essential, but it will help to mince the chicken and vegetables more finely. The final soup should be adjusted with more stock or cream until the consistency is just right for immediate serving.