In Bruges — Waterzooi de Poulet

A typical street in Bruges

A typical street in Bruges

It’s officially summer time, and if you’re lucky that means vacations! I thought I’d start a little summertime series (of an indeterminate number of episodes) based on places I’ve traveled. A little travelog in food, if you will. And today’s destination is … Bruges, Belgium!

A Belgian Canal

A Belgian Canal

Why would you go to Belgium? It doesn’t have an Eiffel Tower or a Parthenon or a Prado (Brussels does have the capital of the EU, but I’m not sure that should rank up there as “tourist destination). What if I told you that Belgium in general and Bruges in particular may just be the ultimate foodie destination? We’re talking about a national cuisine that prominently features chocolate, waffles, french fries and beer! Bruges has both a chocolate museum and a french fry museum? What can be better than that?

Nuni and I at the French Fry Museum

Nuni and I at the French Fry Museum

Last summer, looking for a short jaunt from Paris, where we were visiting family for a few weeks, we settled on Bruges (or more properly Brugge. Brugge is part of the Flemish part of Belgium, and as a result the streets all have long, multiple-syllabic names. It’s easy to get lost — a good map is essential). In addition to the aforementioned delights, Bruges also featured beautiful medieval buildings, serene canals, cobblestones galore, green parks, and chocolate shops. Lots and lots of chocolate shops. We found that one of our favorite things to do in Bruges was go from chocolate shop to chocolate shop, buying a few chocolates at a time, and deciding which ones we liked best, at which point we returned to the “winning” chocolate shop and purchased more chocolates. We can be somewhat single minded.

Waterzooi de Poulet (Belgian Chicken Stew)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 2 large carrots, cut into rounds
  • 2 medium sized leeks, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1½ cups dry white vermouth
  • 1½ to 2 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 6 egg yolks (I save the whites separately in plastic bags -- 2 at a time -- and freeze them for things like meringues and angel food cake)
  • minced fresh parsley
  1. Using a pot large enough to hold the chicken and the vegetables, layer in ⅓ of the vegetables, half the chicken, ⅓ the vegetables, remaining chicken, remaining vegetables. Add vermouth and enough chicken broth to barely cover the chicken.
  2. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, and cook slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken, roughly chop or shred.
  3. Blend the cream and the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to the whisked egg yolks. Whisk in some of the liquid from the pot, then add it to the pot, whisking so the eggs don't cook too fast. Return the chicken to the pot, set over medium low heat, and cook until thickened slightly, but don't let it boil.
  4. Serve in large bowls with good French (or Belgian!) bread. Top with minced parsley.
Adapted from Julia Child/the New York Times

If you can’t make it to Brugge this summer, you can bring a little bit of Brugge home. One of my favorite traditional Flemish dishes is Waterzooi, which translates to “watery mess” but is so much better than that. It’s the easiest thing in the world to put together — chicken, layered with vegetables, poached in wine and broth, then thickened with egg yolks and cream (hey – there’s no butter! That means it’s healthy, right?) but the sum is so much more than its parts. The flavor is intense and delicate at the same time, with the savory leeks and carrots enhancing the meatiness of the chicken. The stew is comforting, but not nearly as heavy as you’d expect, given the egg yolks. My toddler loves it. How much more do I have to say to sell you on it?
Well, I’ll tell you this. The New York Times did a feature several years ago asking famous foodies the most interesting recipe they had clipped and Julia Child named this one for Waterzooi. This is her recipe, except I’ve streamlined the ingredients and the process a bit (among other things, Julia specified chopping into matchsticks, and nobody needs that). It’s a regular feature in our house, and one of my favorite things to eat. Even more than chocolate. Possibly.

And a few additional travel tips for Bruges:

Top 7 things to do in Bruges:
1) Visit the huge central Markt square and people watch
2) Go to the T’Zand Saturday food market (confusingly, not in the markt square. Near the train station)
3) Try at least 3 new types of beers
4) Visit Chocolate Shops (see above)
5) Take a Canal Boat Tour
6) Make your way to Minnewater, a beautiful park
7) Take a stroll in the Beguinage

August.08.Madeleine Paris, London, Brugge 201

Top 7 things to eat in Bruges:
1) Chocolate (see above)
2) Fries, preferably dipped in mayonnaise
3) Waffles
4) Speculaas (speculaas are like Belgian gingersnaps. If you like this sort of thing (which I certainly do), one topping you can get on your waffle is a speculaas flavored paste, which is like gingerbread Nutella).
5) Mussels
6) Beer
7) Waterzooi

10 comments to In Bruges — Waterzooi de Poulet

  • This looks delicious and is a recipe I’ve never tried. I’m thinking you don’t like leftovers – not true at my house – do you eat this at one seating?

    I’m going to make it on Saturday.

  • P.S. Do you have parsnips in here too? The picture looks like it.

  • Kate

    Victoria — a half recipe will usually feed the three of us for dinner, but this is great as leftovers and my toddler actually loves it, so I often make a full recipe.

    No parsnips — the yellow vegetables are a type of carrot from the farmer’s market, but you could add parsnips as well.

  • Ok, you sold me. AA flies to Brussels so I can get there pretty easily. Is Bruge much more fun than Brussels?

  • Kate

    Mrs. Limestone — I haven’t been to Brussels, but from what I hear, it’s more of a big modern city (albeit with some gorgeous art nouveau architecture) while Bruges is more charming (though touristy). Think Milan vs. Venice. They’re a short train ride apart though (the train from Paris to Bruges is only about 2-3 hours)

  • Oh – I love Bruges…

    I lived in Brussels for a year and have visited many times since including Bruges. Thanks for the memories!

  • Well, if Milan/Venice is an indicator, I didn’t like Milan at all and loved Venice. Sounds like Bruges is for me.

  • Josi

    We spent a week in Brugges a couple of summers ago and it was so wonderful! We rented bicycles and alternated taking daylong bike trips with days exploring the city. I had waterzooi twice and have been dreaming of it since! I’m making it on Tuesday for friends. Thanks for Julia’s recipe simplified.

  • Rava

    this is all kinda funny, since Waterzooi is a typical traditional dish from the city of Ghent xD

    I’m a belgian x3

  • Geneva

    I went to Brugge in the spring, & enjoyed the beer, the fries, the beer, the chocolate, waterzooi, & oh, beer! Your pictures brought back fond memories, & I will be sure to try your recipe for waterzooi!

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