Waterzooi : Viszooitje : Flemish Fish Stew

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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 🙂

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!