Recipe of the Week: Julia Child’s waterzooi

Today’s post is the eighth in a series of weekly Julia Child recipes. This week, business program manager Kathy Sklar overcomes her skepticism and lets Julia lead the way to a fabulous waterzooi.

“For a party dish . . . try the Belgian waterzooi with its smooth cream-and-egg-yolk sauce.”
Mandoline “Four-in-Hand Chicken” was Julia’s seventy-eighth show of The French Chef, in which she demonstrated how viewers could make four distinct dishes from one basic recipe for chicken simmered in white wine and vegetables. One was for Waterzooi, a Flemish recipe that called for a skillful blending of egg yolks and cream at just the right moment in the cooking process. The first step in the basic recipe involves cutting vegetables into thin slices, a task Julia might have carried out with a mandoline. She had two: a simple, inexpensive, Japanese-made plastic tool and one made of heavy metal, a very traditional French chef’s mandoline. Both had multiple and replaceable blades for slicing, waffling, julienning, and making “french fries.”

Where to Find the Master Recipe

Kathy’s Story

Waterzooi of chicken. It does not sound French, but it has egg yolks and heavy cream and is “the most interesting recipe” Julia Child ever clipped. I remember thinking, “How hard can one recipe be? If Julie Powell cooked her way through an entire book, I should be able to handle a single recipe.” It was the part at the end, about carefully incorporating egg yolks and cream so they don’t curdle, that made me nervous.

I began by writing a list and checking it twice, buying exactly what Julia recommended. I normally cook white meat chicken but she wanted all parts so I went for it. I never even think of adding cream to a main course, but who am I to argue with her? Onions and leeks. Why would you need both? One and a half cups of vermouth? I was amazed I even had it in my liquor cabinet.

Rawingredients

On to the prepping. I had to julienne a mixture of carrots, leeks, onions, and celery. I did it, but what a pain! I never would have been as neat and careful if I was not recreating this recipe exactly as Julia instructed. I ended up with, as she predicted, 5 cups of julienned vegetables.

Waterzooi inthepot

Then into the pot—layers of chicken and vegetables. Only ½ teaspoon of tarragon for all that food? It took all my will power not to add more. Cook for about 35 minutes? There was no way it would cook through so quickly, I thought, but of course I was wrong. I read My Life in France and know how meticulous Julia was about testing her recipes, so in retrospect it was absurd for me to think her timing was off.

The kitchen started to smell delicious. My daughter, who had no interest in the pain staking julienning, was more than happy to crack and separate 6 eggs. Six egg yolks!? I continued only because Julia told me to.

Creameggyolksandbroth

The next step was to whisk the cream and corn starch into the yolks. No problem. Then the moment of truth: Add the cream mixture to the aromatic broth. Slowly we whisked . . . and it worked! In fact, I was so careful not to overcook the sauce that it never quite thickened enough. It tasted great though—just the right amount of tarragon and you got a hint of the winey vermouth flavor.

The vegetables, because they were all precisely julienned, cooked evenly and were just right. The only thing it needed was salt, the one ingredient Julia did not give a precise measurement for. By this time I was not at all surprised.

Waterzooi

What is for dinner at your house? If it is a recipe of Julia’s, I’m sure it will be delicious.

Do try this at home!

We invite you to join with us in this celebration of Julia Child’s life, work, and contributions to American culinary history. Please share your experiences making Julia Child’s recipes by posting your story, photos, or video on our Tumblr page for this recipe series. Don’t forget to check back next week.

Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History.