Waterzooi, pronounced “vah-ter-zoy” is one of Belgium’s most famous and loved dishes. The creamy soup-stew got its name from the Dutch term “zooien” meaning “to boil”. The stew originated in the Flemish-speaking province of Flanders, and it was said to have been a favorite dish of Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) who was born in the city of Ghent. Ghent was (and is) settled on the sea canal which was once home to many varietals of fish and can be credited with the creation of Waterzooi. Originally, this thickened soup-stew was made with boiled fish (either freshwater or sea), broth, and vegetables, and was thickened with cream and egg yolks. Since the creation of Waterzooi, there have been laws created prohibiting fishing in the Ghent canal; virtually no fish have been caught in the canal since World War II. Because seafood was no longer the most accessible protein, the tasty stew evolved into one more commonly cooked with chicken. If you’re in Belgium, look for “viszooitje” if you want fish stew and “kippenwaterzooi” if you’re after the chicken version.
This recipe uses chicken, although you could easily substitute white fish if you so desired. Serve alone, over rice, or with a crusty baguette.
2 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, sliced
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry parsley
1 teaspoon dry thyme
4 chicken breasts, approximately 8 ounces each
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Fresh parsley for garnish.
Melt butter in a large sauce pan. Add carrots, onion, leek, celery, and potatoes, and sauté for 5-6 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables. Add the stock, bay leaf, parsley, and thyme to the pot, ensuring the chicken is completely covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow the chicken to poach for 12-15 minutes (or until cooked through).
Remove and slice the chicken.
Skim any fat that has risen to the top of the soup.
Whisk cream and cornstarch together. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolk, then add the cream mixture to the egg. One small ladle at a time, add some of the soup broth to the egg mixture to temper it (this will help to avoid scrambled eggs in your soup). Once the mixture is tempered, add the egg mixture to the saucepan and stir well to combine. Add the chicken back to the saucepan. Stir in one teaspoon of lemon juice.
Add salt and pepper to taste and top with fresh parsley, if desired. Serve immediately.