The Participant Observer Recipe of the Month is Flemish Waterzooi: a creamy chicken soup/stew that is guaranteed to warm your soul on chilly days. When you look at the ingredients for Waterzooi, it doesn't seem like this is a very exciting dish. However, we were absolutely surpised by how delicious it is. It's a keeper!
It is believed that Waterzooi originated in the town of Ghent, and it is often called Gentze Waterzooi. Originally Waterzooi was made with fish but possibly because of river pollution, chicken became more common. In Belgium it is not unheard of to use a whole stewing chicken that is slowly boiled and then skinned and cut into smaller pieces. You can use breasts, dark meat, or a combination of both. For fish versions, eel, pike, carp, bass, cod, monkfish or halibut are popular choices. Shellfish are also an option. The remainder of the ingredients, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, leeks, cream, and egg yolks, are common ingredients, regardless of the protein used.
Although the basic ingredients for Waterzooi are fairly standard, there are a number of differing cooking procedures that cooks use. Sometimes whole pieces of legs, thighs, and wings are used; some recipes use cubed breast meat. Sometimes the carrots are julienned; sometimes they are cut into larger chunks. Most commonly the vegetables are cut into rather larger chunks.
There are several recommended ways that Waterzooi is thickened. Nearly all recipes use heavy cream, but some recipes call for making a roux from butter and flour to use to thicken the broth. Other recipes use corn starch to thicken the broth. Many, if not most, use egg yolks. Using egg yolks requires a bit of care. If you boil the soup stock after adding the cream and eggs, it will curdle. It won't taste bad, but the silkiness of the sauce will be lost.
- 2 large carrots
- 2 medium onions
- 4 Yukon gold or white potatoes
- 2 tender ribs of celery
- 2 medium-sized leeks, white and tender green parts only
- ½ teaspoon dried tarragon
- 2 pounds cut-up frying chicken, legs or thighs or breasts (with bone), or a mixture of these
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped parsley for garnish
- Cut the chicken (or fish) into large bite-size pieces. Small pieces like wings can be left whole.
- Cut off the roots and the tougher green part of the leeks. Thinly slice the leeks and cut the resultant rings in half.
- In a colander or strainer thoroughly rinse the sliced leeks to remove any sand or sediment.
- Dice the onion.
- Peel and cut into chunks the carrots and potatoes.
- Wash and slice the celery into bite-sized pieces.
- On medium heat melt butter in a Dutch oven or heavy pot.
- Add the chicken to pot and sauté for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
- Add the chicken broth, wine and tarragon and bring to a boil.
- Add the tarragon, bay leaves, carrots, onions, potatoes, and leeks.
- When the soup begins to boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover.
- Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat
- Drain the broth into a bowl or large measuring cup
- In a sauce pan, beat the egg yolks, corn starch, and cream.
- Gradually—a ladle at a time—stir the hot broth into the cream and egg mixture (this is called tempering).
- Stirring constantly, warm the sauce on medium low heat until the sauce thickens. Do not let it boil!
- Mix the sauce back into the pot with the chicken and vegetables.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread slathered with butter.
Eet Smakelijk (Bon Appétit or "enjoy your meal" in Flemish.)
Recipe and Photos by T. Johnston-O'Neill