You are hereWaterzooi Chicken

Waterzooi Chicken

Turn on any TV channel these days and I guarantee you will see one or another of your favourite TV chefs in ego-action, preaching, teaching, advising and now and again even cheating. You will see and hear about their one to five star establishments, which part of the ocean or river their fish was netted, how their beef was fed and delicately massaged and from which corner of their herb gardens the broad leaf parsley came from.

I am not knocking them. Far from it I enjoy some of these gastro TV shows. I find them helpful and informative and I have been known to attempt a recipe, first viewed on the box at 6pm and served it up to my own guests at 8pm, albeit maybe not always as successful  as the creations of Hesto Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey or young Jaime’s.

What niggles me is the lack of time and praise given to the key people who look after the customers in these the ultimate establishments - the waiters. So I have come up with my own modest appraisal of waiters. I will not include the USA, where the waiter – servers or even waitstaff as they are sometimes called over there – will rush up to your table and introduce themselves by their Christian names and interrupt throughout the meal with, “Is everything to your liking sir?”

A good European waiter will be more professional but still friendly. He knows when to appear at your table and not a minute before. He will not be pushing you into another bottle of wine or offering exorbitantly priced bottles of 20000 year old, glacier water from New Zealand. He is there to welcome, serve and assist you in your choice of food and wine, should assistance be required.

There is a dearth of good waiters in the UK and many restaurants are going the American way - offering bonuses for increased sales. In Germany waiters are normally inexperienced personnel, generally from Eastern Europe or from the Mediterranean countries, where their Latin warmth has little in common with service. I shall not deign to comment on the seemingly rehearsed rudeness of French restaurant staff. The Austrian waiters as a whole are of top standard but it is   the professionalism of waiters to be found working in the restaurants of Belgium and in Brussels in particular that I tip my hat to.
I have yet to have had a bad meal in Brussels.

Add to this fortunate experience the impeccable table service to be found in this city’s many restaurants and I consider myself a lucky man. To me, it appears that the waiters, both male and female, take pride in their work and are equally proud of their profession. Their proficiency is obvious even as I enter the restaurant. I feel as though my custom is indeed welcome. Time is given for me to scrutinize the menu before the waiter suggests the specials of the day, taking care to explain local dishes, of which some are almost untranslatable. Their command of three languages, French, Walloon, and English being a requisite is amazing enough but I have also overheard customers being addressed in Spanish and Italian.

It is a pity that good service in the modern catering industry (the word industry well describes what is presently happening to gastronomy) is becoming a rare commodity but thankfully it still exists in Belgium.

Should wish to find out for yourself, board the early morning Eurostar and pop over for lunch. If you can’t, then why not try preparing Waterzooi Chicken, a dreamy Belgium dish which also serves well as a main course.

Belgian Waterzooi Chicken

3 large carrots
1 large leek (white and tender green part only)
1 medium sized onion
4 celery ribs/sticks
1 tsp dried tarragon
50 g butter (2 Tbsp)
0.5 tsp salt
450-500 g chicken filet strips 250 ml (1 cup) extra dry vermouth
250 ml (1 cup) light chicken or veal broth
100 ml (just under 1/2 cup) heavy/whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp cornstarch
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a large handful of finely chopped fresh parsley

Trim and wash the vegetables. Cut carrots, leek and celery ribs into 4-5 cm (2 inch) julienne matchsticks. Peel and halve the onion, then cut into thin slices.
Heat the butter in a heavy casserole dish, add the vegetables, half a teaspoonful of salt and dried tarragon. Sauté for about 5 minutes, without browning! Transfer 2/3 of the vegetables into a bowl.
Layer the sautéed vegetables and chicken strips into the casserole dish in this order, starting from the bottom: a third of vegetables, half of chicken strips, a third of vegetables, half of chicken strips, a third of vegetables.
Pour over the vermouth and chicken or veal broth, so the chicken and vegetables are just covered (you may need a bit more broth). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and chicken cooked through.
Now strain the cooking liquid into a bowl. Whisk egg yolks, cream and cornflour until combined, then add the hot cooking liquid, spoonful at the time in the beginning ('to temper' the egg yolk mixture). Pour the sauce back into the casserole dish over the chicken and vegetables, stir in most of the parsley and heat until the first bubbles appear. Remove immediately (overheating will cause the egg yolks to curdle).
Divide into hot soup bowls and serve with boiled new potatoes or good French bread.
 - Fly at a Smile-Price