Top of the morning to ya, laddies, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. As my annual use of the scourge of Irish travelers everywhere alludes, it’s time for us to cover St Patrick’s Day! And while you might think that means we’re going to be talking corned beef and potatoes, let me tell you: that’s a pretty shitty stereotype. Ireland makes a bunch of foods that don’t involve potatoes or Cabbage, and Corned Beef, as we’ve mentioned before, isn’t even actually Irish. Also, I misread my Corned Beef directions, and it won’t be done until like, Friday or Saturday. So just in time for the holiday itself, but far too late to help you guys. So instead, let’s break those stereotypes, and make a dish that’s nice, easy, and great for these brisk March evenings: Chicken Skink Soup! You can jump straight to recipe here, or listen to me talk about linguistics, St Paddy’s Day, Gypsies, and more by reading on.
A Little Fuzzy on the Details
Those of you more aware of the history of skink soup, please hold your comments until the end, as I assure you we have a point in using the dish, that will be explained shortly. In the interim, let’s discuss St Paddy’s Day.
A Legen-Darry holiday, for the three readers who get that joke.
Now, St Paddy’s Day is a holiday we don’t actually cover very often on the site. We did a Shepard’s Pie, back in the day, and we did the Quick Tip about it I just referenced, but beyond that, it’s just been a passing comment here or there. And that’s not really an accident, as St Paddy’s Day wasn’t really a thing my family cared about, as far as I remember. Like, I quite enjoy Corned Beef, but I can’t recall us having many big dinners of it for the holiday. (Then again, my memory is notoriously broken and incomplete, so maybe we did, and I just don’t recall it.) I am FREQUENTLY irritated, almost every year, when someone inevitably pinches me because I didn’t realize what day it was. If I’m not DIRECTLY invited to an EXPLICIT St Paddy’s Day party, I will likely forget about the day.
Despite this, I’m well known for frequently invoking my Irish heritage: Despite my family living in America for at least 4 generations to my understanding, we still call ourselves “Irish”, due to the American love of hyper-heritage I talk about in the Shepard’s Pie post. I have multiple graphic t-shirts that proclaim my Irish nature, because the Graphic Tee is mankind’s most efficient communication device.
This shirt, for instance, tells you “I like the wrong Planet of the Apes movie”.
Why did we let Tim Burton make one of those again?
It’s likely something connected to this, my inability to meaningfully relate to the holiday, that is what prompted us to be here, writing THIS post, in the circumstances we are. Because, here’s the thing: I somehow both planned, and did not plan, this out.
As I reported back in our State of Catastrophe post in January, I had made a sketch of the first few month’s posts. Unfortunately, that’s really all I achieved: A sketch. Between rehearsals, family obligations, weather issues and illnesses, I have to confess that I didn’t get much farther into the “planning out the year” process than Early April. And even then, I only had a couple salient points totally pinned down.
The sad thing is this is still a step UP in physical organization of our plans.
Case in point: I had written in “make something for St Paddy’s Day” two months ago…and then I moved on, with no more detail than that. I mentioned I would PROBABLY do Corned Beef, but that it takes a while to do. A point evinced today, because, I’m actually MAKING corned Beef RIGHT NOW (Assuming you’re reading this between March 11th and March 16th or so. Otherwise, I MIGHT be making Corned Beef right now, but it’s not good odds.) . But while I thought I had found a recipe that would make the beef in 5 days, it turned out to be “5 days per inch of thickness”, and my brisket is pretty close to 2”. Which feels like a sexual innuendo, but if it is, it’s very confusing, and probably not something to brag about.
I mean, if you want to measure brisket, go horizontally!
That plan clearly not coming to fruition in time, around Friday, I had to say “damn, I definitely need to find something else to make for Monday’s post.” So I mentioned it to my mother and brother on Saturday, we brought out our Irish cookbooks, flipped through several pages, wrote down some ideas, and…moved on with our day. Seriously, we got to the “make a grocery list and put something together” step, and just said “Eh, it’ll be fine.” And walked away for 24 hours.
So TODAY, we ended up going to the store, and buying…just, too many ingredients. Like, I think I can make no less than 5 recipes of JUST IRISH DISHES out of the ingredients we bought today…so we could make soup. Soup that, shortly after we made it, I became very suspicious of. I suspected it of being…untruthful
Filthy Skink-ing Lies
How can a soup be untruthful? There’s a lot of philosophical and nuanced ways I could answer that, but the focus for today is on the provenance of this dish, not on any kind of edible infidelity.
I just want it noted, on the record, that if your ADULTERY involves ‘cherries’, I think you’re officially in “bad idea” territory. Maybe it was the marriage that was a bad idea, probably the adultery, but somewhere, someone fucked up.
See, technically speaking, this recipe didn’t come from an “Irish Cookbook”, in the strictest sense. It came from “The Irish Pub Cookbook”. And while that might SOUND like the same thing, it’s also pretty clearly NOT, if you think about it. Just because a dish is served in a restaurant in a location doesn’t mean it’s FROM there. Your average New York Steakhouse serves a LOT of French foods, for instance.
I was made suspicious by something of a weaselly phrase in the cookbook: “Skink,” it told me “is an old Irish and Scots word for ‘broth’.” Which, because I have an somewhat unhealthy knowledge of linguistics, sparked a “that’s not right” thought in my head. Because Irish and Scots are different languages. They’re both Gaelic languages, but they are distinct, different-sounding languages. It’d be like writing “X is an old Spanish and Italian word for” something: it’s unlikely to be true, and if it is, then you probably should have said “X is a LATIN word for” whatever you’re talking about.
Like, Seasoned Flatbread wasn’t an original idea to either Spain or Italy. They just took it in different directions.
And my initial Google search suggested I might be right. The town of Cullen, Scotland, has a very famous soup called Cullen Skink, which is a sort of smoked-cod chowder, for a comparison most of my audience will understand: a thick, creamy, white soup of fish. And my first search for “Irish Skink soup” turned up only 3 links before giving me a bunch of links asking “Hey, did you mean CULLEN Skink?”, and one of those links was from another food blog using the same cookbook I was. So I thought maybe this wasn’t an Irish dish at all, but a Scottish one that just shows up in Irish pubs. Which actually would have been SUPER APPROPRIATE, if you believe carnies and gypsies!
Hell of a sudden turn there at the end of that paragraph, I know, but stick with me here: Years ago, I was at a carnival, and happened into a tent styled after the old gypsy tents, where one could “find their heritage”. Basically a simple little database search tool that claimed to tell you the origins of your family name, your coat of arms (if you possessed one), and would give you a laminated print-out of the information for something like $10. It seemed cool, so I did it, and our name was in the system. According to this story I have never been able to verify through other sources, the O’Guin name is so old-Irish that it’s technically not Irish: supposedly, my ancestors were the kings of the Ulster region, but it was the kinds who KICKED US OUT who named the land “Eire”, or “Ireland”. WE called the land “Scotia”. So, according to this print-out, we’re so Irish, we’re Scottish.
Unfortunately, that simple laminated faux-parchment page has, in the decades it has been with our family, MASTERED the art of “never there when you WANT it”: whenever I mention it, someone feels like they saw it “just a couple weeks ago”, but no one ever knows where it is. As such, I’ve both included a space for me to put a picture of it, and written out this paragraph in case I can’t find it tomorrow. If you’re reading this, it foxed me yet again. (Editor’s note: Yup. Next time I find it, I’m taking a picture to prevent this from happening again.)
Straying back from our sudden detour into carnival secrets I was about to chalk this up as a cultural transplant to fill out the cookbook. Except that one of the links called the Irish skink by a specific name: Balnamoon Skink. And THAT name ended up generating numerous links from reputable sources all agreeing that “oh, yeah, Ireland makes a chicken Skink soup”, so I guess it’s legit! So if you want something pretty quick and easy for your St Paddy’s Day, that’s authentically Irish, pale as the Irish, and with enough greens to dodge a pinching, let’s tackle Skink soup.
Simply Simmer Swiftly
When I say this is a pretty quick, pretty easy recipe, that tends to mean it’s what I call a “Dump” recipe: where the primary steps of the recipe consist of “Now dump in X.” And yes, if you do it right, this is just a dump recipe. It’s also got some very interesting ingredients, so let’s get more into that.
The only ingredient that might make this NOT a dump recipe is the chicken itself. In a truly authentic Balnamoon Skink, you actually place a WHOLE chicken in the pot, simmer it for a long time, shred the meat, and dump the meat back in the pot before finishing the soup. This is not a recipe like that. This recipe calls for 1 cup diced cooked chicken. I suggested we buy pre-cooked chicken, but was sadly over-ruled. So we ended up frying a diced chicken breast to get our chicken for this one.
Chicken cubes cooked quickly for skinks.
The recipe starts out pretty simple, and somewhat recognizable: you chop up carrots, celery, and a leek, and boil them all in chicken stock. The reason that sounds so familiar is because leeks are aliums, a member of the onion family, and, as we’ve discussed before, “onion, carrot, celery” is a mirepoix, the classic core of French and English soups. Leeks are a fun substitution here, because they’re much gentler than onions, and they’re more connected to the mythos and culture of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. A LOT of Irish dishes use Leeks or Buttermilk.
But simply toss the chopped veggies into chicken broth, add some salt and pepper, and bring to boil. Pop on a cover, drop the heat to medium, and simmer 15 minutes. This step is about 60% of the cooking time of this whole recipe, as a warning/comfort. From the moment you cut your first carrot, you should have less than 40 minutes until dinner’s ready.
You can build Carrot Mountain in the first 5 minutes, and still have dinner in time.
Once the m-IRE-poix, as I’ve decided to call this Irish twist, in a pun that doesn’t really work visually OR audibly, is softened in the simmering stock, splash in the chicken, some scallions, and half a cup of frozen peas. I TOLD you this thing was heavy in greens, didn’t I? We’ve still got one more in-green-dient to add (as I callously continue my butchery of language), so we’re not even done! Simmer those suckers for 8 minutes, and get on with the next step!
And that next step is…more than a little weird. See, I also told you this soup was pale, and chowder-like, and that of course means it’s built on cream. But not just any cream! This cream is enriched with extra protein by…beating it with an egg yolk.
The egg yolk here looks really bullied by the cream. A single hold-out of orange in a sea of white.
No parallels there.
Seriously, I looked, and this is a CONSISTENT point in the recipes: you beat an egg yolk into the cream before adding the cream to the soup. Which…Didn’t really work for me. Maybe it’s because I used too small a bowl, or too heavy of cream, or our egg was told old/young/just weird because it’s a backyard hen’s egg, but our egg refused to fully ‘whip’ into the cream. So when we added our cream/egg mixture to the pot, we did so through a strainer. If, when you’re mixing, you see strands of egg yolk clinging to your fork/whisk, I suggest you do the same.
I don’t know what’s going on here, and I frankly don’t WANT to know.
This is the most finicky part, so keep track: You take the pot off the heat, then in goes the egged-cream (which is in no way connected with a New York Egg Cream), Stir to combine, and then return to a low heat. Reheat gently, stirring gently. Once the soup’s warm enough, ladle it into bowls, and top with shredded lettuce for a final dash of green.
Which, to my American sensibilities, looks a LITTLE like someone fucked up in the kitchen, but who am I to judge?
And this 40 minute dump-recipe soup is…surprisingly good. Seriously, I had TWO complaints with this dish, and that’s A: it could have used a LITTLE more texture (which we could probably achieve by just lowering the heat of the simmer. Ours was really more of a “low boil”, but that’s what keeping the heat on medium achieve.) and B: the black pepper sank to the bottom of my bowl, so my last sip of soup was a little more potent than anticipated. And so we’re clear, these aren’t like, ‘full letter grade” issue: This dish was definitely a B+, maybe even an A- effort.
The dish was quick, and easy, and it tasted great. This wasn’t a catastrophe at all! Man, guess it’s just the luck of the Irish with us today. (A phrase I have always held was meant to be a bitterly ironic joke, given the number of wars, famines, and plagues Ireland got to deal with.)
This St Paddy’s Day, remember that your local starving “not-quite-Irish” writer has a powerful thirst, and could use a pint or two to whet his whistle, and help him buy those pints through Patreon! Patreon is a platform that allows you to help support this site for as little as $1 a month. Currently, we cover all our technical costs through Patreon, and hope to soon make enough to also cover our food costs, and maybe Jon’s labor, someday. You can help make that a reality through your support, and in exchange, you get inside looks at what’s coming up on the site, the ability to vote on upcoming projects, extra catastrophes, videos, and more! Check it out and see if you’re interested! If it’s not for you, but you still want to help out, all you need to do is engage with us on Social Media. Retweet us, like or share our Facebook posts, invite friends to like our page, do whatever you do on Instagram, any of those things help increase our profile, and brings more people to the site. And if nothing else, more reader numbers at least make Jon FEEL better.
THURSDAY: IT’S PI DAY! SO WE”RE GOING TO HAVE A TALK ABOUT PIES! MAYBE WE’LL MAKE A PIE, BECAUSE NOW THAT I DON’T HAVE REHEARSAL 4 NIGHTS A WEEK, I CAN GET BACK TO CHURNING OUT FOOD CONTENT.
MONDAY: MARCH MADNESS KICKS OFF! I’LL MAKE A COUPLE SNACKS FOR YOU TO DUNK ON WHILE WATCHING COLLEGE MEN DRIBBLE.
And now, the
Chicken Skink Soup
3 ½ cups chicken stock
2 celery stalks, diced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1 small leek, halved, sliced, and washed
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 cup diced cooked chicken
½ cup frozen peas
4 scallions, some dark green parts included, thinly sliced
1 egg yolk
½ cup heavy whipping cream
4 butter or Boston lettuce leaves, shredded
1. Add chicken stock, celery, carrots, leek, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste, to a medium sized pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.
2. Add in the chicken, peas, and scallions, and simmer for another 8 minutes.
3. Beat together the egg and cream. Remove the soup from the heat, and stir the egg-cream mixture into the soup. Reheat gently, stirring to keep combined.
4. Ladle soup into bowls, top with lettuce, and serve.