This ancient Celtic soup is a great way to eat your oats
Ready to eat like a Druid? Because this dish dates back millennia, to the ancient Celtic world. It was originally called Brotchán Roy (or maybe Brotchán Foltchep – opinions differ).
The flavor combination may sound unusual, but our version is delish. In fact, it tastes like cream of leek soup.
So give it a try. And decide that oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast anymore.
Recipe: Irish Leek and Oatmeal Soup
This recipe may remind you of Leek and Potato Soup. But that dish usually contains about equal amounts of leeks and potatoes. By contrast, Irish Leek and Oatmeal Soup contains just enough oatmeal to give it deep flavor and velvety texture.
There are many ways to make this dish. Most recipes call for using stock (usually chicken) and milk in equal parts. But some call for stock alone (or even just water). We use chicken stock, then finish it with heavy cream.
This recipe takes about 45 minutes to prepare. It yields 4 servings.
- 3 to 4 medium leeks (should yield about 3 cups of white and light green when chopped)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats or Irish oats (or more to taste; see Notes)
- 3½ cups chicken stock
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped parsley (to taste)
- ½ to ¾ cup heavy cream (to taste; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (a good half dozen grinds for us)
- Clean the leeks (they can be a bit sandy, so you’ll need to wash them well): Remove the outer layers if they’re wilted. Cut off the tops of the leeks where they turn from light green to a deeper shade. Then cut off the tip ends of the roots, keeping enough so that the leaves remain attached. Slice the leeks into quarters lengthwise, keeping a bit of the root end intact so the leaves don’t separate. Wash the leeks under cold running water, separating each leaf so the water can rinse away any sand or dirt. When the leeks are clean, shake them dry, then cut them into slices of ¼ inch or a bit less (discard the root ends).
- Melt the butter in a 4-quart cooking pot over medium heat. When the butter is hot and bubbly, add the chopped leeks. Season to taste with salt, then sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the oats, then sauté for another minute (stirring often).
- Add the chicken stock. Simmer the mixture until the oats are tender (about 30 minutes).
- Meanwhile, wash and dry the parsley, then mince it (you may want to reserve a bit of parsley for garnish).
- After the soup has cooked for 30 minutes, taste to make sure the oatmeal is thoroughly cooked (and continue cooking if not). Then add the cream and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste again, adding more salt if necessary. Add the black pepper. Stir in the chopped parsley, then cook for an additional minute.
- Serve and enjoy. (You may want to sprinkle some chopped parsley over each bowl as garnish.)
- Simmering the soup for 30-plus minutes helps develop the flavor. It also cooks the oats thoroughly. So you don’t want to use “instant” or “quick” oats – they’ll turn to mush.
- Irish oatmeal is steel-cut (which gives it good texture) and it has a nutty flavor. Old-fashioned “rolled” oats have less texture (but are still quite good). Either type of oatmeal works in this dish.
- You can use more oatmeal than we suggest if you want a thicker, heartier soup.
- You could also use less liquid than we suggest (our recipe makes a brothy soup, which we like).
- Leeks have a wonderful, distinctive flavor (and they’re traditional in this dish). We suppose you could substitute onions (we haven’t tried that), but the overall flavor and character of the dish would be different (although probably still good). If you use onions, we suggest cooking them until they’re translucent (5 to 8 minutes) in Step 2.
- We like to finish this dish with heavy cream. But you could skip that and instead make this using a mixture of half chicken stock and half milk. Just remember that milk curdles if heated too quickly (and can burn easily), so keep the heat to just below a simmer.
- A light beef or lamb broth would probably also work well in this recipe (lamb or mutton broth would have been common in this dish back in the day).
- Or you could just substitute water, which may have been the original liquid used to make the dish.
- Nutmeg would make an excellent addition to this soup. Add it in Step 3.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we recommend. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- “Brotchán” translates as soup or broth. “Roy” probably derives from the Irish word for king. So the name of this dish might have meant “soup fit for a king.”
- BTW, there probably has never been a set recipe for this soup. Cooks likely have altered quantities to suit their tastes, and substituted whatever ingredients they had on hand.
- So what about those Druids? They served as leaders in the ancient Celtic world (their history dates back at least to the 4th century BCE). They flourished in what is today France, Britain, and Ireland.
- Some Druids were literate, but they mostly relied on oral teaching. So there is much we don’t know about them – it’s been lost to history.
- We do know that many Druids were highly influential civil and religious leaders, often functioning as healers, legal professionals, political advisors, and priests. They seem to have played a particularly important role in Irish mythology.
- Some of the traditions we still follow today (hanging mistletoe, for example) derive from ancient Druid customs.
- There’s even an opera about Druids: Norma by Vincenzo Bellini. Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, our resident operaholic, highly recommends it. (For more info about the opera, you can read all about it in our Pasta alla Norma post. And also read about the pasta dish named after the opera.)
“Take a leek,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And add oatmeal, of all things. Who knew?”
“Giddyup,” I said. “Makes me feel my oats.”
“You’re horsing around again,” said Mrs K R.
“Don’t be an old nag,” I said.
“This soup really is a horse of a different color,” said Mrs K R.
“Or flavor,” I said. “Perfect for a stallion like me!”
“I’m afraid you’re ready to be put out to pasture, old boy,” said Mrs K R. “Too ancient to sow wild oats.”
Guess I won’t be letting my inner Druid moon child out tonight.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Leek and Potato Soup
Pasta alla Norma
Curried Corn and Shishito Soup
Celery, Corn, and Bacon Chowder
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Cuban-Style Black Bean Soup
Vegan Mulligatawny Soup with Cabbage
Red Beans and Rice Soup
Bean and Cabbage Soup
Or check out the index for more