Saturday, January 01, 2005

Traditions, New and Old

A few days ago we invited our friend Benoît over for a small New Year’s Eve soirée we were in the process of organizing. He told Michelle he’d be delighted to come over, but that it was his tradition to eat oysters on New Year’s Eve, so would we mind if he brought over a bag of 50 Malpeques. She told him she was pretty sure we’d be able to accommodate him and his tradition. To my knowledge, I’d never had oysters for New Year’s Eve—not in quite some time, in any case. Our family has tended to be in warmer climes at this time of year—ones where good oysters are less readily available. I could hardly think of a better way of ushering in the New Year. With the exception of a decade of vegetarianism, I’ve been a dedicated oyster eater since I was a toddler, and a veteran of oyster festivals stretching from Hull, Quebec (now Gatineau, Quebec) to Urbanna, Virginia (home of the Virginia State Oyster Festival). Michelle had never had oysters until a couple of years ago, but she quickly became an amateur of oysters. I have a tradition of having smoked salmon for brunch on New Year’s Day, but that’s New Year’s Day. I was desperately in need of a New Year’s Eve tradition.

Anyway, once we’d found out about the oysters, we set about coming up with a menu that would complement them nicely. That’s when I thought of Waterzooi. It seemed like an ideal accompaniment, and I’d been meaning to try making it since I first heard about it last winter while in Belgium.

Pressed to tell me what the local specialty was when I was visiting them in their hometown of Ghent, my friends Steven and Hilde placed this dish at the top of their list. It has a rather vague name—Waterzooi translates as “simmering water”—and it can be both a seafood dish and a poultry dish, strangely enough, as it is made with both fish and chicken (never at the same time, mind you), depending on who makes it. But when it’s at its best, as in this recipe, its balance of flavors—between its fish, its winter vegetables, and its creamy broth—is wonderful and it makes for a elegant centerpiece on days when the weather is cold and/or damp, as it is in both Flanders and Montreal this time of year. One of our favorite local restaurants offers a Salmon Pot-au-Feu as one of its signature dishes. If I had a restaurant here in Montreal, I think Gentse Waterzooi van Tarbot would be one of our signature dishes.

Everyone agreed that the Waterzooi had been an ideal follow-up to the oysters (which were absolutely perfect, by the way—all fifty of them), and with bread and cheese, and a lovely mixed greens salad, we’d hit upon a terrific combination for New Year’s Eve: a light prelude to our desserts (Pears Poached with Marsala, Michelle’s Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, and Crêpes Suzette) and our champagne toast (thank you to Marie-Odile), and a comforting and refreshing way to greet the New Year. I can easily see this whole meal becoming a New Year’s Eve tradition. In fact, I’m making it one of my resolutions.

Ghent-style “Waterzooi” with Turbot

3 tbsp butter
2 medium leeks, trimmed (white and pale green parts only) and julienned
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and julienned
1/2 celery root, peeled and julienned
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups fish stock (+ up to 2 cups of water, if necessary)
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 pinch saffron threads
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs boneless, skinless turbot, cut into 1” cubes
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
Leaves from 8 sprigs parsley

Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrots, celery root, and shallots and cook until they are slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine, stock, thyme, bay leaf, saffron, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover, and reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until vegetables are soft, 10-15 minutes. Add the fish and poach it until cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.

Whisk the milk and egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Gradually add 1 cup of the hot broth from the pot, whisking constantly, then stir hot milk mixture back into pot. Heat stew until hot (do not allow to boil otherwise it will curdle). Adjust seasonings. Garnish with parsley.

[adapted from a recipe in Saveur (August/September 2003 issue), which itself was adapted from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook by Ruth Van Waerebeek]



andrea said...

Methinks you meant Hull, Quebec and Gatineau, Quebec.

aj kinik said...

Wow, that is quite the gaffe. Thanks for pointing that out, Andrea.