Is it a stew? Is it a soup? Is it a chowder? It’s waterzooi! This is a beautiful classic Flemish dish that will warm your soul and impress your friends. A deliciously creamy chicken broth with plenty of veggies.
Serve Belgian chicken waterzooi piping hot with a fresh hank of crusty bread to mop up the juices, or simply as a standalone dish. The best thing is that this chicken waterzooi recipe is dead easy to make.
If you’re new to Flemish food, you’ll still probably have some idea of the region’s famous cuisine. You’ll have heard people rave about Belgium’s mussels, fries, gray shrimp and waffles. You might have even heard of some of the authentic recipes like eel on the green, or flemish stew.
If, however, there’s a gap in your knowledge when it comes to waterzooi or you want to know a bit more about this traditional Belgian staple (or even if you need a quick and easy recipe for dinner tonight!), this post will set you straight.
History of the dish
Waterzooi is well and truly one of the classic Belgian recipes. It originated in the northwest of Belgium in the city of Ghent – in fact, it’s often called “gentse waterzooi” because of this.
The first half of the word, “water” speaks for itself. The latter part of the name, “zooi” derives from Middle Dutch words “soot”, “sode” and “zoode” which mean to boil – which makes a lot of sense when you think about the recipe itself.
The authentic gentse waterzooi recipe was immensely popular with people of the 16th century who would have piled in leeks, carrots, onions, and whatever else they had to hand. The fact that it’s still devoured today is a testament to its scrumminess.
Although it would have been mainly peasant fare back then, apparently even King Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor (who was born in Ghent) was a fan of the recipe!
At this point in time, Ghent was a prosperous and wealthy place, riding the wave of its successful textiles industry of the previous centuries. It had risen to become one of the largest and most important cities in the north of Europe. The city’s success revolved around the Scheldt estuary that led to the sea, and as such fish was mostly the dish of the day.
It’s no wonder then, that this traditional Flemish recipe was made with either freshwater or saltwater fish. Today, this is known as “viszooitje”. It’s thought that this was because the crisscrossing canals and rivers in and around Ghent were so teeming with life, that dishes were invented to incorporate as much fish as possible.
There was no strict rule for what fish to use in the original seafood version of the regional dish, and it’s a debate that will probably divide Belgian traditionalists. Back in the day, it would generally have been a cod-like freshwater fish called burbot which was plentiful in the rivers of Ghent.
Nowadays, you’ll see variations incorporating any white fish like halibut, sturgeon, cod, bass, or firm-fleshed fish such as eel, pike or even carp. Fancier versions might branch out with monkfish or even lobster and other shellfish like mussels or gray shrimp. If you see on the menu “Gentse Waterzooi van Tarbot” – this is simply waterzooi with turbot.
However, the Belgian chicken waterzooi recipe (officially called “kippenwaterzooi”) has now taken over in popularity and is more common. It’s thought that this change in the dish’s focus came about because the rivers and waterways of Ghent became so polluted that the fish numbers, that had once been so high, eventually disappeared.
It’s a stew where anything goes. This basic recipe for chicken waterzooi soup includes celery, carrots and potatoes but you can add whatever vegetable you like, from celeriac to leeks to fennel – you name it. The chicken broth is a mix of vegetable stock, egg yolks and cream, which combine to make a heartening soup.
It’s Belgian comfort food at its finest. The perfect antidote to cold weather, waterzooi will warm you right up. Essentially, the recipe is simply cream, vegetables and chicken but it’s so rich in flavor it’s not hard to see why it’s endured the test of time.
Feeling creative? Why not experiment with the recipe and sub out the chicken for fish and shellfish. You could try adding in sliced leeks to the recipe (the white part of leeks is the juiciest). If the recipe is too liquid for your taste, maybe some added cornstarch or flour could be used to get a thicker sauce.
There’s also a beer-based variant which is yummy. Simply replace part of the stock with a Belgian beer of your choosing – something rich and malty will do wonders with the rich flavors.
This recipe is for a simple waterzooi that will put a smile on your face and not consume too much time and effort! It should take around 40 minutes from start to finish, and you can always make a double batch and save half for the following day.
It’s important not to scrimp on the meat – for best results, use a good quality chicken like a black-leg or free-range type.
Recipe by mom
For 4 persons
- 1 fresh chicken, (ideally black-leg chicken farm chicken)
- 5 sticks of celery
- 5 carrots
- 6 potatoes (a firm boiling variety OR a mash variety if you want it to soak up the juices)
- 2 egg (you’ll only use the yolks)
- 400 ml heavy cream
- Butter for cooking
- 2 liters of vegetable stock
- Salt and pepper
1. Cut the chicken up into around six pieces, or buy it pre-cut. Do not use the whole chicken carcass in the Waterzooi.
2. Put the chicken pieces and the vegetable stock in a pan and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
3. Next, peel the carrots and prep the celery by peeling away any of the thicker strings. Cut these into juliennes – long thin strips.
4. Peel the potatoes and cut them into large pieces.
5. Add some butter to a large cooking pot or casserole dish and heat it until melted and slightly foamy. Then add all the vegetables and potatoes and braise them over low heat, stirring regularly.
6. Take the chicken out and set aside the chicken stock. Remove the chicken skin. Add the skinless chicken in with the vegetables.
7. Strain the chicken stock, and add it to the large pot, pouring it over the vegetables until everything is covered.
8. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through. After a few minutes add the seasoning – just a dash of salt and pepper.
If you like, you can also add herbs to the sauce here such as thyme or bay leaves. Ideally, you want to cook this until the vegetables are tender and not overcooked, but you don’t want it on a full boil as this will make the chicken become tough.
9. Put the egg yolks in a bowl with the cream and beat.
10. Remove the pot from the heat and add the beaten yolks and cream mixture. Stir well.
11. Ladle your chicken waterzooi servings into large bowls and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley if you’re feeling fancy!
So there you have it! As it’s got potatoes in it, you might not find that you need more starch – but feel free to serve it over steamed white rice or with a lump of yummy bread. Finally, sit back and enjoy this hearty meal, close your eyes and imagine you’re back in medieval Ghent…
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