Maybe ten years ago, maybe more, I had a bowl of waterzooi at Markt, a Belgian restaurant that at the time was in the Meatpacking District. (It's moved up to Chelsea and they don't have waterzooi on the menu anymore.) It was one of those life-changing culinary experiences. I eat seafood very rarely; I'd never encountered fish cooked with milk before. The broth was silky, the fish delicate and flaky, the strands of julienned vegetables eminently slurpable. Since then I've had many a creamy chowder, but none came close to the sublime richness of waterzooi, which incorporates both egg yolks and heavy cream (and, in Markt's version, lobster--definitely not traditional, but so delicious!).
On Tuesday we inaugurated our fabulous new blender by making cashew cream (pour boiling water over cashews, soak for one hour, drain, blend with cold water to desired consistency; we blended in a sauteed diced shallot for extra flavor). We made it quite thick and had a lot left over after making a really excellent pasta alfredo, so I'd been thinking about how to use it. Today I mixed some with water, leftover mashed potatoes, nutmeg, and thyme for the best creamy potato soup I've ever had. That made me think of chowder, which made me think of waterzooi. I hunted up a recipe that called for fish (though at some point I must try Julia Child's chicken waterzooi) and we set about adapting it for my dairy-free, low-salt diet.
( Ingredients and recipe )
This recipe has a great cooking rhythm. There's just the right amount of time for cubing the fish and chopping the parsley as the vegetables cook, and for loading the dishwasher and separating the eggs as the fish simmers. It smells fantastic while it cooks, and one bowlful is a perfect meal. Even though we used low-sodium broth, it needed just the barest touch of salt to make the flavors pop. The two of us had a serving each, and the third serving is sitting in the fridge, where I suspect the flavors will marry gloriously.
It would be very easy to veganize: no egg yolks, more cashew cream to compensate, veg broth instead of chicken broth, tofu and/or mushrooms instead of fish. Maybe some day I'll try that. The vegetables could also be varied from the classic mirepoix; as I recall, the dish at Markt had long strands of zucchini and red bell pepper. Lemongrass, ginger, and a dash of hot sauce would give it a lovely Thai flavor, perfect served over rice instead of bread. It's a superbly adaptable recipe. I look forward to playing around with it.
(crossposted to omnomnom)