Waterzooi : Viszooitje : Flemish Fish Stew

Waterzooi

Waterzooi. I’ve been looking for interesting seafood recipes. Googled this, and that. I ended up in the images section after typing fish stew (this is usually how I go about finding recipes online, don’t judge.. ok, judge), there was this pic of something that looked amazing, there were mussels, shrimp and a creamy sauce, ..oh yes, and fish! I clicked on it, and a waterzooi recipe popped up. I started reading about it. A dish from Belgium, a Flemish dish to be more precise. Waterzooi is the … generic name(?), popular waterzooi these days is made with chicken according to wikipedia, anyways, I could use a break from chicken.

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Viszooitje, the seafood version is what we’re making here today at that other cooking blog. Working with seafood in the winter time is so much nicer and easier and a stew is a great way to prepare it around this time of the year (this of course only applies if you live on the northern hemisphere), the kitchen is cooler, seafood ingredients seem to like that, they seem happier. The recipe I found called for hake or monkfish, but those are harder to find around here. I used sea bass and salmon, they looked wonderful, and I quite like them. Ok, ok! , let’s get down to business, should take less than an hour, and ready yourself for an amazing seafood dish worthy of a holiday table. And yes, is very easy to make, I forgot to say that.

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Ingredients (makes 2-4 beautiful portions):

4-6 fingerling potatoes of different colors
1 onion, small dice
1 celery stalk, small dice
1 carrot, small dice
1 leek, small dice
some butter to sweat the veggies
2 eggs yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
pinch of saffron
2-3 cups of fish stock
2-6 shrimp shells on
1/2 pound of sea bass, skin removed
1/2 pound of salmon, skin removed
2-6 live manila clams
2-6 like mussels (cleaned)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Parsley leaves to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil to garnish

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First, cook the fingerling potatoes whole, skin on. I used my microwave but feel free to use the stove. Place the potatoes in a pyrex cup, cover them with water by a good inch, and a few pinches of salt, and microwave for 10 minutes at the highest setting.

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Chop all the vegetables, fairly thinly. and sweat them in some butter. Add the saffron. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the wine and cook until the wine evaporates completely. Remove pan from the heat and set aside.

Heat up the fish stock in a saucepan or medium size stock pot. Bring to 57C or 134F give or take. This is the poaching temperature to get the fish and the shrimp cooked nicely. Add a couple of pinches of salt if the stock doesn’t have salt already. Taste, it should be seasoned nicely. You can poach the pieces of fish whole or you can cut them in smaller sizes. Up to you. It doesn’t really matter. Place the fish and the shrimp in the fish stock (I leave the shells on, so the impart extra flavor to the stock, we’ll remove them later). The temperature of the stock will drop, don’t worry, keep the pot over low heat, and it should come back up. Poaching a fish is a very gentle way of cooking it and infuse some flavor into it at the same time. It requires controlling the temperature of the poaching liquid. I keep taking the pot on and off the burner, trying to keep the temperature to not go over 57C. It’s not very precise way of doing it, but it works. Sous vide would be the best way of doing it. Still requires a thermometer. It’s worth it though. The fish is so delicate and tender it virtually melts when you eat it.

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Strain the fish stock and add it to the pan in which the veggies were getting cooked. Reserve the fish. Set over medium high heat and reduce for a little while. Taste as you go. There’s really not way of knowing how much to reduce the stock, since every fish stock is different. Taste as you go. That’s the easiest most effective way to know what’s going on in those pans!

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Add the clams and mussels to the pan with the fish stock and veggies. Keep cooking until both clams and mussels open up, should take a few minutes. If some don’t open, tap them with a wooden spoon, if they still don’t open, discard them, they are dead (and we don’t know how long they’ve been dead for!)

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In a little bowl, beat the yolks and the cream until incorporated. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. It’s almost instantaneous, fat mixed in fat, super cool. Reserve. This is what’s called a liaison. Which is nothing more than an egg yolk sauce-finishing kinda thickener, and enhances how awesome something tastes by adding fatty richness.

Remove the open clams and mussels from the pan and reserve. While still hot, take some of the cooking liquid (about 2 Tbsp) and add that to the egg yolk and cream mixture to temper it, whisk constantly through this process. This will help bring the liaison closer to thickening temperature. Eggs yolks coagulate around 65C, with a little cream, that coagulating temperature is extended to about 85C. If you go above this temperature, the eggs will curdle and the velvety finish will be ruined. I’ve curdled liaisons before many times. It sucks. So keep that thermometer handy. Ok, so… once the egg yolk/cream mix has been tempered. Add the tempered liaison back into the pan… remember that pan where the clams and mussels cooked, where the veggies and the butter cooked, the saffron… etc..?  yes, add this liaison to this pan, and stir, again making sure the liquid never goes over say 80C, but above 70C. Remove from the heat.

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Get ready to plate.

Cut potatoes in round.

Peel shrimp and remove the gastrointestinal track. Sharp knife, make an incision along the back of the shrimp. Expose the intestine, and remove it under cold water. All this might sound a bit graphic. Hey, it’s not that much work, it’s ok to skip this step, but makes for a nicer presentation.

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Place fish, shrimps, potatoes clams and mussels on the plate. Pour the wonderful sauce (it’s not technically a sauce, but it isn’t a broth either, right in between) Add some parsley leaves. Drizzle some olive oil. Waterzooi. Mouth watering Viszooitje! that’s right. I hope I did it justice πŸ™‚

Yes, controlling temperature is key to deliver great results here or in any recipes really, and it’s worth the extra work and spending a little money in getting a thermometer (instant read, probe, or infrared). Cooking food and being mindful of precise temperature ranges is a skill worth developing and something that will have an incredibly positive impact in anyone’s cooking in my opinion. Happy holiday cooking!

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55 comments

  1. What a lovely recipe! WaterzooΓ― is a beloved recipe in the area where I live (I live in the French part of Flanders after all), both the fish and the chicken kinds. I have never made it myself, but it is the kind of dish that would use unsold scraps of cheap fish, so I don’t think monfish would have been on the menu. What I love about seafood stews is how quickly they come together, if you are currently into seafood stews (and Belgian food), you might be interested in checking out my sole and beer stew: http://tortore.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/sole-poisson-et-rodenbach-biere-carbonnade-typiquement-belge/

    Oh and your pictures… LOVE them!

    1. Darya! thank you! I had a good time taking photos of this recipe πŸ™‚ I know close to nothing about flander’s food, so I apologize if I made any assumptions, I read a few recipes online, and that’s all I had as a frame of reference but still wanted to try it, and I’m also down with making a version with cheaper scraps of fish, reminds me of bouillabaisse (sort of a similar concept). Thank for you feedback!

      1. My pleasure. I know that Belgian and Northern French food are not well known in the US (or anywhere else as a matter of fact), so I appreciate seeing such a recipe on somebody else’s blog. And everything you said about it is right πŸ™‚
        Your post has got me longing for a winter trip to the sea, walking on the windy beach with nobody around and burning my fingers and mouth eating fried fish and hot french fries. πŸ™‚

  2. Beautiful – both your photos and your description. It reminds me of the heartiness of New England fish stews in winter, but this is MUCH more ELEGANT! I too find myself googling ideas/ingredients and scrolling through the images to get inspired. Thanks for sharing this wonderful dish!

  3. Your waterzooi looks amazing! And I’m so glad you poached the fish at low temperature πŸ™‚
    I don’t visit Belgium very often, even though it is only 2 hours from here, and I have to admit I’ve never had waterzooi. I think I prefer your fish version to the chicken version that is now common. It actually reminds me of a French fish stew I did earlier this year, called Pochouse. Like Pochouse, the original Waterzooi was made with fresh water fish. Your seafood version is amazing though, and would be great with a glass of chardonnay.
    P.S. I’m afraid that the original medieval version of waterzooi from the city of Gent was not cooked as gently as yours, as the word “zooi” is derived from “zieden” or boiling; think of “seething” in English!
    It doesn’t have anything to do with today’s “zooi”, which means something like mess, junk or stuff.

    1. Glad you appreciated some of the techniques here as well as the seafood theme, it was super fun to prepare this. Thank you. As I was reading about it online, yes, boiling came up, but in medieval times, probably better safe than sorry regarding food illnesses, so everything was probably tortured with heat and still people dropped like flies πŸ™‚ I want to find out about Pochouse, never heard of it!

    2. oh, and by the way, saw your post on beef wellington… beautiful work. I haven’t left a message yet, I’ve been busy trying to pack up my kitchen stuff. I want to do it slowly so Im not rushing the last week. But there’s so much stuff. My sister is inheriting boxes of spices and oils and vinegars πŸ™‚

        1. I just do it for fun πŸ™‚ I started a few years ago and couldn’t put it down. Im currently in california, Los Angeles, but I will be moving to Vancouver in about 3 weeks, work is moving up there so… will be blogging from Canada soon.

  4. I had this dish on a trip to Brussels and must admit it was not a favorite, compared to the fabulous other foods I’ve had there. Your version, on the other hand, looks just great and I love the additions you’ve made, like the purple potatoes and saffron, which I don’t recall in the original dish. Makes me want to give this a try and see if I can redeem the recipe… πŸ™‚

      1. The taste was quite bland, something which I think you managed to overcome with the addition of wine and saffron. It was also quite pale and not as visually appealing as yours.
        Even just by reading the recipe and looking at the photos I know this would taste so much better than what we’ve had there.
        Of course it could be just bad luck, as I recall all other things we’ve had were excellent, not to mention the chocolate…. πŸ™‚

        1. that’s unfortunate, it’s a simple recipe and shouldn’t take much to make the ingredients sing. Maybe they overcooked the fish? (That’s usually a problem with fish dishes, and the fish goes stringy and dry) maybe didn’t season (salt) the sauce? Saffron is a beautiful ingredient, but without salt, nothing tastes good. Even chocolate πŸ™‚

  5. OMG this is right up my alley. Wow. Your photos are gorgeous. The liaison looks amazing too. This is really and expertly crafted medley of all of my favorite foods.

    1. thanks John! I think I will not be making fish for Christmas. I’m feeling under the weather and I’ve been busy packing up my stuff before I move to Vancouver. I think I’m gonna stick to the traditional venezuelan dishes for now πŸ™‚ maybe for new year’s I go back to my fish plans!

  6. Hmm I make a very different type of seafood soup (will have to make it one of these days again to post it!) very different to this, which also seems fantastic! Hmm so this is from Belgium. Mr. H. is from the north of France, which has plenty of Belgium influences, I’ll ask if he knows this πŸ™‚

      1. In Spain the Basque country, in culinary terms, is known for really delicious food … and in plentiful rations too πŸ™‚ I’m sure she must have made some amazing things.

        1. yeah, my grandma was from Bibao πŸ™‚ and my granddad from Valencia… we got the seafood and the paella in the family hahahaa My grandma was a wonderful home cook, she love being in the kitchen, the whole family spent more time in that kitchen than any other part of the house (there was a tiny tv, and the stove looked like it had been to war)

          1. Great culinary combination!
            When I was living in the UK, I lived in a cottage in the woods with some Spanish and Italian friends I met there, there was a couple from Valencia and the guy would make paella whenever we could in the weekends, He bought his paella dish and would bring as many ingredients as possible when he would come back to Spain. They used to be made on firewood in a sort of bbq stove thing in the garden,… amazing memories, so delicious paella!
            Did you get to learn much cooking from your grandma?

          2. I didn’t, I got into cooking so recently, but I did learn from her lots about spanish food (by eating it hahah), specially because we all grew up (me and my sisters) in venezuela, and venezuelan food is different. But in my grandma’s kitchen food was mainly spanish. I probably hold some sort of record for the most tortillas espanolas eaten by a single person πŸ™‚ i love that stuff! I recently made it with bacalao. delicious!

  7. Beautiful! I have very fond memories of eating Waterzooi in a tiny restaurant in Bruges. Your Viszooitje looks fabulous. Since I have ready access to fresh seafood, I frequently make a Seafood Chowder, but I have never tried a Flemish fish stew. It’s now on the top of my “to-do” list, thanks to your wonderful instructions. Happy New Year.

  8. One of the things I enjoy most about your blog is your recipes are like tutorials (I may have mentioned that in a previous comment), which helps the home chef transition through the method with minimal problems. I think this would be such a lovely dinner served up to good friends who enjoy seafood. I’m running through wine pairings in my head right now! Thank you for sharing with all of us!

    Kindly,
    Allison

    1. Thank you Allison! It’s really awesome that you get that from my posts, I do try to make an effort and explain things, something I sound like a broken record, and many times, I tend to give these long winded explanations hahah, but if I were learning how to cook, I would love for somebody to take the time. One of the things I like to share is what I’ve learned during these last few years of (obsessive) cooking πŸ™‚ I like to learn about how to do things in the kitchen. I don’t have many recipe books but I do own some wonderful cooking technique books and every chance I get I like to share what I’ve learned, helps me retain and understand better what am doing too. There’s a lot of science in cooking, I love learning about that as well. And writing about when I can πŸ™‚

    1. Seriously? wow! that’s really cool, Brenda. This is probably one of the most random recipes I have on the blog. I love it too! Thank you for your compliments. Makes me really happy to know you enjoy the photos! Hope you’re doing great. Happy monday!

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