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Waterzooi is a traditional Belgian dish believed to be native to the city of Ghent. It has undergone a number of incarnations since it was first developed, but generally contains fish or chicken, poached vegetables, and an egg-thickened creamy base. This stew is classically served with bread to sop up the juices after the bowls are empty and it is very hearty and filling. Some restaurants that focus on Flemish cuisine may offer waterzooi on their menus and this dish can also be made at home.
The characteristic feature of waterzooi is fish or chicken poached with vegetables, some of which may be parboiled so that they cook evenly. Herbs are added to create a rich broth and before the soup is served, egg yolks whisked with cream are blended in to thicken the broth. The result is a very rich, creamy soup that is also very filling. Bread can be dipped into the soup and also used to absorb the liquid left over when people are finished eating.
The original dish was probably made with fish, and may not have featured cream, although culinary historians have some disagreements. As the dish spread to other regions of Belgium, people began using chicken instead of fish and thickening the dish with cream for a heartier version. Some waterzooi purists will argue that the stew should only be prepared with fish.
Vegetables used in this stew can include carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, and leeks, and the herbs may vary as well. Each cook prepares the dish slightly differently and Gentse waterzooi, as it is sometimes known, is especially well suited to cold winter nights, when people want something warm and filling. Lighter versions of the stew can be made with broths thinned with vermouth or white wine, and people can also leave out the egg for a less rich version.
People making waterzooi at home should look for fish with solid white flesh that will not flake away or melt during poaching. Tuna and cod are both good choices, although many other fish species will work as well. The fish should be carefully filleted to remove bones, and cut into large chunks. If carrots and potatoes are being used, cooks may want to parboil them first to soften them. The leeks and celery should be briefly sauteed in oil and butter before adding the vegetables, fish, and broth to cover so the stew can be simmered briefly to blend the flavors, blended with cream, and then served.
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