Waterzooi is a stew-type dish very popular in Belgium. It is a must-have chicken soup from the Flanders region that is generally consumed in the winter. It can be prepared with chicken or fish. Also, over time, waterzooi has become an emblem of Belgian gourmet cuisine.
What is waterzooi?
The term waterzooi literally means “boiling water” in Flemish. Etymologically, water means “water” and zooi derives from the old verb zooi which means “to cook”. It is a Belgian specialty which is mainly eaten in winter in Belgium.
Waterzooi is a unique and hearty stew or soup dish made from carrots, celery, leeks and potatoes. It comes from the Flanders region: it is the traditional Belgian chicken soup. The traditional waterzooi is generally prepared from fish or chicken. Its particularity is based on its broth made from fresh cream and egg yolks which give it a white and creamy texture. Some recipes add white wine.
What is the origin of waterzooi?
Waterzooi dates back to the Middle Ages towards the end of the 13th century. The recipe was created in the city of Ghent, and more precisely on Quai de Brabant. At that time, a water mill was built there to regulate the level of the river water (Escaut) with a dam. The people of Ghent obviously took the opportunity to mill their grain and produce flour.
Thus, at this precise location, a lot of grain and flour residues fell into the river, which attracted fish. The city of Ghent was overwhelmed with all kinds of freshwater fish. Due to the abundant amount of fish in the river, fishermen have multiplied in the region. Fish has become an affordable commodity for locals and the basis of several essential dishes from the Flanders region.
Evolution of waterzooi recipe
In the old days, the traditional way to consume waterzooi was to prepare a broth and throw in the catch of the day (hence the name water-zooi). However, the traditional recipe and method of preparation have evolved over the centuries and variants have appeared.
Originally, the waterzooi recipe was made from fish. Also, the original recipe does not count less than seven species of river fish: eels, carp, tench, barbel, pike, perch and beak.
Then the recipe evolved and people started to prepare it with monkfish. However, this fish disappeared from rivers and was threatened with extinction until the 2000s. With the disappearance of fish, the traditional fish recipe evolved into a chicken recipe.
Some recipes use chicken breast, but the most common recipe uses chicken thighs and drumsticks. Also, versions of fish waterzooi still exist.
Nowadays, waterzooi is made with other kinds of freshwater fish such as eel and pike. After several efforts to conserve fish species, monkfish are once again found in the rivers of this region.
But it is not uncommon to find waterzoois prepared from sea fish such as bass. For example, the Gentse waterzooi van tarbot is a variant of waterzooi prepared from turbot, a sea fish.
The sauce that makes up the waterzooi is certainly the most difficult element to master in the recipe. Indeed, it is a question of mixing the egg yolks with the cream and adding it to the broth once the cooking is finished.
It is imperative not to cook this broth after adding the sauce with the egg yolks. Doing so may cause the eggs and cream to dissociate and cause lumps in the soup. A successful waterzooi must have a white, creamy and perfectly smooth texture.
Care should also be taken not to overcook the vegetables and to ensure the cooking time indicated in the recipe so that they retain a slightly crunchy side.
Chicken soup: Medecine or popular legend?
Chicken soup is a popular dish around the world and has a reputation as a grandmother’s remedy for cold and flu symptoms.
Also, a study was conducted in 2000 at the University of Nebraska. Researchers studied the effect of chicken soup on the inflammatory response in vitro. According to researchers at the University of Nebraska, it turns out that certain components of chicken soup inhibit the migration of neutrophils and may have an anti-inflammatory effect which could explain a temporary relief of the symptoms of the disease.
However, in 2007, the New York Times denied the results of the experiment conducted at the University of Nebraska, finding that none of the research carried out was conclusive.
- 4 chicken legs
- 4 leeks , trimmed and sliced diagonally
- 1 stalk celery , trimmed, and sliced diagonally
- 3 carrots , sliced diagonally
- 4 small potatoes , halved
- 1 onion , cut into strips
- 1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme)
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 egg yolks , lightly beaten
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Pepper , freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons chopped chervil
- In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter over low to medium heat.
- Sauté leeks, potatoes, celery, carrots and onion for 3 minutes. Set aside.
- In a Dutch oven, place the chicken legs and bouquet garni and pour the broth. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat, cover and continue cooking over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the reserved vegetables.
- Cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes over low heat.
- Remove the bouquet garni.
- Place the egg yolks in a large bowl.
- In a saucepan, heat the cream without boiling it.
- Slowly pour it over the eggs, whisking.
- Then add the lemon juice, whisking vigorously until the mixture has the consistency of a thick cream. Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour 2 ladles of broth over this sauce and mix.
- Transfer the sauce to the Dutch oven and mix gently.
- Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Divide the waterzooi among 4 bowls. Decorate with chervil and serve with bread.