Traditional Cullen skink is a Gaelic mariners’ dish served more as a soup than a bake, and using haddock as opposed to a smoked river fish. These humble ingredients form a decadent dish.
I recently served a version of Cullen skink at a dinner celebrating eel, and it also proved an excellent substitute. For me, this dish with eel is a very strong representation of the area I grew up in south-western Victoria.
The region has always had a very strong dairy industry and Koroit – a town that is situated at the back of a now-dormant volcano called Tower Hill – was bolstered by the immigration of labourers during the Irish potato famine. Potatoes grow very well here in the rich volcanic soil, so in the mid-1800s potato farming was established as the town’s major industry. Koroit is now so well known for its potato industry that we used to refer to the football team as the “Spud Pickers”.
Variations of potatoes, dairy and smoked fish formed the backbone of my diet growing up so it is interesting to be referring to this dish as decadent. Decadence is something generally associated with exotic or rare food. Maybe I just like the familiarity of south-west Victorian soul food.