Local food friends Anne & Ryan hosted a potluck for the Olympics opening ceremony this week, and the assignment was to bring an international dish (because it’s the Olympics, you know). I have an affinity with Belgium, having spent a year there on exchange in high school, so I violated the rules of going to parties and chose to make something I’d never made before: Gentse waterzooi. Waterzooi is a recipe from Gent (Ghent), a beautiful and ancient town in Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. Belgium’s climate is very similar to the Pacific Northwest, and the food tends to be rustic and homey, not as fancy as French cuisine, but hearty and delicious. So part of the appeal of this recipe is that it’s extremely easy to make with local ingredients.
I found Julia Child’s recipe (login probably required, sorry) from a 1987 issue of the New York Times, and since Julia has never steered me wrong, I went with it, with some modifications, as noted below.
Julia’s ingredient list
2 large carrots
2 medium onions
2 tender ribs of celery (I omitted this as I do not have any growing currently)
2 medium-sized leeks, white and tender green parts only (I used several small ones)
.5 teaspoon dried tarragon
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
2.5 pounds cut-up frying chicken, legs or thighs or breasts (with bone), or a mixture of these (I deboned and chopped up the chicken into bite-size pieces — I didn’t want partygoers to have to try to remove meat from bones in plates balanced on their laps, and I didn’t want to deal with the degreasing required if using skin-on chicken parts. Also, because I use homemade chicken stock that has plenty of gelatin and flavor, I was not worried about losing that benefit of boiling the bones in the soup.)
1.5 cups dry white French vermouth (I omitted this because of a pregnant partygoer. I substituted about a third of a cup of lemon juice, for the acid, and more stock.)
1.5 to 2 cups chicken broth (I used the aforementioned homemade chicken stock, which we reduce down quite a lot and then freeze in ice cube trays.)
.5 cup heavy cream
1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley. (I omitted this, because I forgot to bring the stems I’d just picked.)
The steps are simple, up until the end. Julienne the vegetables — I used a mandoline slicer for the carrots, but did the rest by hand, and actually just sliced the onion thinly rather than julienning it. Toss all veggie sticks in a bowl with some salt and pepper and the tarragon, and in your big dutch oven or stock pot, layer a third of the veggies, half the chicken, half of the remaining veggies, the other half of the chicken, and the rest of the veggies. Add your vermouth (lemon juice) and stock just to cover.
Julia says you can stop here and refrigerate for several hours to finish up later, so we packed up and took everything with us to finish at the party.
Simmer for 25-30 minutes or until chicken is done. At this point Julia says to strain it, degrease the broth, and season. I just poured most of it through a strainer into a bowl, and didn’t worry too much about the dregs left in the pot. (I could do this because I used skinned meat. If using skin-on meat, you’ll definitely want to degrease.)
While the chicken simmers, you whisk the cornstarch and cream together, and in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks. Add the cream mixture to the large bowl and stir. Gradually add the hot broth to the egg & cream mixture, whisking the whole time. I used a ladleful at a time, or if you have a helper or a container that’s easy to pour, you could just pour in a slow steady stream. Be careful not to dump it all in at once, lest you accidentally cook the eggs suddenly. When it’s all mixed, return it all to the pot with the chicken and veggies, and bring it up to heat, but do not let it simmer, or the eggs will curdle. Not that it’s a big deal if they do — but it spoils the perfection of the beautiful creamy rich broth (which is really more like a sauce at this point).
Serve with crusty bread, or over noodles or boiled potatoes. Garnish with the chopped parsley.
I wish I’d gotten pictures, as it was quite pretty as soups go. I will definitely be making it again, though, so I’ll try to remember to update then. It seemed to be a success overall, which is always a relief when cooking a recipe for the first time, for others.
Homegrown: chicken, chicken stock, leeks, carrots, forgotten parsley, eggs
Bainbridge Island: onions (Laughing Crow Farm)
Washington: Fresh Breeze cream as usual
Unknown: salt, pepper, tarragon, lemon juice, cornstarch (but it’s advertised as non-genetically modified!).