Waterzooi is a traditional Flemish dish from the picturesque town of Gent, this main course highlights wonderful aromatic vegetables and fresh local fish in a milk stew, yet almost like a soup or chowder. I call this dish Belgian comfort food. It’s just what you want and you didn’t even know you wanted it. The flavor of Waterzooi will warm the soul on any night. It’s different than a chowder and can be made with many different proteins, from fish and seafood, like this recipe, or chicken, rabbit, or other wild game. This recipe showcases Belgian Beer Cuisine, with this sophistication and complexity, while being hardy and soulful.
This Waterzooi recipe uses white fish such as halibut, cod, sturgeon, or other firm flesh fish and mussels and simmered in cream and a Belgian Tripel style ale. If a Tripel isn’t available, a Saison | Farmhouse Ale, Golden Strong Pale Ale, or Witbier would be a wonderful substitute brew. The idea is to use a beer that is lower in hop flavors, with a rich malty backbone, some alcohol, that showcases the Belgian yeast characteristics, that highlight the fish, both in richness, texture, and its delicate essence. Leeks, fennel, shallots, carrots, and celery add their familiar bouquet, as the mussels liquor infuses into the broth. The results with these ingredients are unique and familiar at the same time.
I’ve made Waterzooi everything from Lobster | Morel Mushrooms, Shellfish to Chicken. This Waterzooi recipe and technique will teach you how to make this Belgian recipe, that can be adapted to what you have on hand. It is easy to make meal, that can feed a crowd pretty quickly. If you are making a Chicken Waterzooi, use a chicken stock | broth or a vegetable version. Serve some crusty artisan-style bread alongside this soup | stew | chowder, the soak up any remaining broth with.
Serves: 4 – 6 as an entrée
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Waterzooi is an authentic recipe from the city of Ghent, Belgium. It is a milk stew | chowder that is full of wonderful fish and mussels.
Add butter and olive oil to a large Dutch oven or 12 qt pot and heat over medium until the butter is completely melted and starts to foam. Add the minced shallots and sauté for 3 - 4 minutes. Add the sliced leeks and fennel, season with some salt and pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes or enough time to slightly wilt the leeks. Add the carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, and sauté for another 4 minutes. Then add the potatoes, fish stock, cooking beer, and cream; bringing the mixture to a simmer for about 8 minutes.
Take your fish of choice, removing any skin and bones (saving for fish stock) and cut it into 1 ½ inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and add to the pot with the mussels, turning down the heat to a low and cook for about 8 - 10 minutes, all the vegetables should be tender, the mussels opened and fish just cooked.
Note: Do not bring to a boil, just a light simmer or small bubbles around the edge of the pot. This will help prevent the fish from overcooking and becoming tough.
Ladle Waterzooi into warm bowls and garnish with chervil or parsley.
Fish Waterzooi Beer Pairing Suggestions:
As this recipe results in a very delicate entrée, the beer pairing needs to show this same finesse and sophistication. One of my favorite Belgian Tripels is from Westmalle. The layers of flavor out of such a simple beer (ingredients-wise is malt, sugar hops, and yeast) still fascinates me and my plate. The estery and phenoic yeast additions create lemony citrus, Budhha's hand, clove, white pepper, fennel pollen while mixing with the malt and caramelized sugar creating a honey, candy sweetness that balances out herbal hop notes of bay, thyme, and chervil.
A Saison | Farmhouse Ale can also be paired with this dish, as the higher temperature fermentation (Saison yeast are very similar to red wine yeast, that thrives in a warmer fermentation temperature, reaching upwards of 80 - 90°F/27 - 32°C) creates wonderful esters and phenoic flavors. This will pair nicely with the Tripel in the Waterzooi, re-enforcing the yeast flavors, while still being delicate and aggressive on the palate.
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