Boiling Water in the Ghentish Fashion – Alsatian Waterzooi

Waterzooi - served with parsley, herbs and julienne of lemon zest garnish

Waterzooi – served with parsley, herbs and julienne of lemon zest garnish

Waterzooi – Alsatian Cream of Chicken Soup

I’m not typically a joiner. I don’t buy lottery tickets – they’re taxation for the math impaired. I don’t often join clubs or organizations. But all things in life change and since we moved, I’ve been joining up right and left – it’s helped me build connections with our new community here on the island.

One organization I’ve enjoyed connecting with has been the local Culinary Art Society. There are a bunch of talented cooks in this group. Once a month, we get together around a particular food genre or theme, have judged dishes, desserts, unjudged dishes – and wine! Mainly we eat and drink and socialize a bit.

Recently, the monthly meeting theme was “Alsatian food”. Alsatian food?? Now, OK, I like to think I have at least some grasp of many major national and regional cuisines – after all, everything we truly know and love about food is derived from our great national and regional cuisines – cuisines that have evolved to a point of perfection over many years, often centuries!!

But I had no clue whatsoever – no insight at all into this particular flavor. I knew that quiche was kinda Alsatian and I knew they used a lot of charcuterie and and there was some kind of pizza-like dish, the tarte flamande, that was popular. But that was it.

So I began researching and prowling through my cookbooks and virtual sources. You know – it’s hard to find a really good recipe. I’m working on delivering recipes that are actually useful guides to preparing food – that strike that balance between offering enough information to really make the dish sing and offering too much information and losing you as a reader!!

Because I’d hate that – the “losing you as a reader” part – I work hard to make Calorie Factory recipes clear, interesting, and structured to make relatively easy reading, because the last thing you need when you’re working from a new recipe is to have to ask yourself – whilst perhaps elbow deep in julienned root vegetables – Wait!! Wait! What. . .???

Anyhow, here’s the recipe I came up with – it’s a synthesis of several recipes that I liked. Many Alsatian recipes call for beer or cream. I discovered that you can actually use both and it’s very good – they play nicely with each other in this particular soup, especially when you add them as described below in the recipe.

Oh and the name of the soup is technically Gentse Waterzooi Van Kip but really it’s cream of chicken soup – and it’s awfully good.

Go ahead - use both - you'll be glad you did

Go ahead – use both – you’ll be glad you did

This recipe won 1st prize in the “judged dishes” section. It’s rich and comforting with a lot of layered flavor and aroma – please take a few minutes to julienne the veggies with a knife – don’t use a food processor, it just won’t be the same. It takes just moments and you’ll be improving your knife skills.

Ingredients for 6-8 servings

  • 2 lb. boned skinless chicken breast cut into 3/4-1″ chunks, or 1 lb. chicken breast, 1 lb. chicken thighs, or one small chicken, cut into 8 parts. I used boned skinless breast because I was making quite a bit more of this soup and it was convenient. If I were making 6-8 servings, I’d use boned breast and thighs cut into 3/4-1″ chunks. If I were making something for a super-fancy display, I might fabricate a chicken so I could put nice pieces of it in peoples’ bowls as a serving. “Fabricate” is a hoity-toity word that means “cut into pieces”.
  • 1 medium celery root (celeriac), julienned and cut into 2-3” lengths
  • 2 large carrots, julienned in 2-3” length
  • 3 leeks, cleaned and julienned in 2-3″ length, white and very light green parts only
  • 2-3 stalks celery, ribbed and julienned in 2” pieces
  • A handful of celery leaves, coarsely chopped (optional, and very good!)
  • 2 shallot, chopped fine
  • 2 big pinches saffron, couple oz. very hot water
  • ½ C. parsley sprigs for garnish
  • Juice of two juicy lemons
  • 1 bottle Stella Artois or other lager beer
  • 2 quarts rich chicken broth – I used a homemade broth that I made with chicken feet – chicken feet are amazingly good for broth making. A great substitute is your favorite cardboard steri-pack of chicken + a teaspoon of chicken based Better than Bouillon, my favorite quick bouillon maker. You can buy this in the soup section of most good supermarkets.
  • 1-1/2 lb Yukon Gold or waxy Red potatoes – this is about 2-3 large potatoes (3-4 medium) peeled and cut into ¾” to 1” chunks
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 3 eggs (or 2 egg and 2 yolks)
  • ¼ – ½ tsp. nutmeg – I used a slightly heaped ¼, nutmeg has a distinctive flavor and aroma, it can easily overpower a dish, but used in the right amount and proportion it can add a remarkable aroma and savor to this dish.
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground coriander
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper to taste


Heat 2 TB butter over medium-high heat in the bottom of a large deep pot. Lots of butter? Depends on your perspective. Some of the original Alsatian recipes I reviewed had you use a half stick of butter.

Julienned vegetables - rinsed and spun dry

Julienned vegetables – rinsed and spun dry

When butter finishes frothing, add chicken (you may need to do this in 2 batches to avoid ‘steaming’ the chicken), stir and shake constantly until chicken is nicely browned, this should take about 7-8 minutes per batch.

Remove chicken, add shallot and 1/3 of the leek to the pot (oh go ahead, add a little more butter if the pan seems too dry, that’s what I did, about 1 TB), toss and fry for 4-5 minutes until tender-crisp.

Return chicken to the pot, add broth, add potatoes, add beer, add lemon juice, stir and cook uncovered at a rapid simmer until potatoes are fork tender – about 12-15 minutes once the pot comes back to a simmer.

While soup is simmering, put saffron in a small container and add a couple of ounces of your hottest tap water. Whisk together nutmeg, coriander, cream and eggs. After the saffron has steeped in the hot water for a few minutes, add it – threads and all – to the cream and egg mixture, and stir.

Add a large spoonful of hot broth from the pot to this mixture (‘temper’ the cream/egg mixture), stir, and then another and stir. Turn heat to lowest setting and slowly stir the egg and cream mixture back into the soup, stirring slowly until the soup begins to thicken. The idea here is to keep the heat so low – or off, if your stove is hard to adjust at low temperatures – that the cream and egg mixture doesn’t curdle or set but becomes silky and smooth.

Add julienned carrot, celery, celery root and leek to the pot and gently stir them in. Cook on lowest heat for another 4-5 minutes until they soften.

Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as desired.

Serve in bowls with lots of bread and butter on the side, garnish with parsley snips and, if you like (I did), a fine julienne of lemon zest. A nice Alsatian style Riesling or Pinot Gris makes a great accompaniment.

Factory Extras – Play Around a Little

This recipe describes a beautiful, comforting, nourishing soup with a lot of flavor and eye appeal. If you want to play with it a little, here are some suggestions – I’ve tried all these ideas and they work beautifully. Keep in mind that you’ll end up making a different soup than the traditional Waterzooi.

Mushrooms – Yes Please!! Mushrooms go beautifully with chicken and creamy stocks. If you have any around your neighborhood, try adding about 1/4 lb. sliced fresh chanterelles to the soup pot at the same time you add the shallot and leek for sautéing.

Herbs – There is very little in the world that cannot be improved upon with a handful of fresh herbs. In this case, try fresh tarragon and / or thyme. Take a bit of kitchen twine and tie a bunch of these herbs, then drop the tied bunch into the broth to simmer. Remove the bunch after simmering and before you add in the egg / cream mixture.

Substitution – Instead of lemon, use 1 TB. red wine vinegar. I’ve tried this – it’s very good and lends an entirely different tone to the soup base – not quite as bright, but very substantial.