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eat the cup, part six :: francophonie

well, friends, i can hold back no more. i've ducked out of featuring either france or belgium thus far in eat the cup 2018 because i had a feeling that i would have plenty of time to get around to them. now, i have to admit that i was a little hesitant when i saw that belgium were facing tournament favourites brazil in the quarterfinals, but even then, i had a feeling that we hadn't seen the last of the kingdom of waffles. last time around, i felt that they failed to gel as a team, despite their pirate's chest of talent. this time, i think that they've had the time to get used to each other.

as far as france is concerned, i can't imagine that anyone thought that they weren't going to get to at least this stage. their roster reads like a manager's wet dream: pogba, varane, kante, lemar, griezman and, of course, mbappe. part of me feels like calling kylian mbappe [assuming i had his phone number, which i don't and never will] and telling him he might want to slow the hell down. he's nineteen years old, which means he wasn't born when france won the world cup [i was already an adult...]. he's already won ligue 1 with monaco and paris saint germain, become the most expensive french player in history [and the second most expensive player overall] through his transfer from monaco to psg. if he wins the world cup, i don't know what goals he can possibly set for himself. [ask sidney crosby -ed.] although france might have started off a little uninspiring, they were always a contender for the great prize.

i do feel just a little sad that the wins by france and belgium mean that the world cup is now an all-european affair. that's nothing against either team, it's just that it detracts from the idea of a "world cup" when six of your final eight and all of your final four come from the sixth largest of earth's seven continents. it also means that my cooking is going to be somewhat less adventurous than i might have imagined.

to honour the winners of the first set of quarterfinals, i decided to prepare a version of waterzooi. waterzooi is a type of stew from belgium that is usually made with chicken, but which was originally made with fish before the waters got too polluted to allow belgians to eat the fish that was harvested in their own country. [yay industrial revolution!] but i'm a purist, or rather i'm a person who prefers fish and seafood to chicken, so i decided to make my stew about the delicious ocean bounty that one can find in the north sea. while fish and eel were common enough in old-fashioned waterzooi, i chose to make mine with seafood, a staple of both the belgian and french north coasts. that meant scallops, mussels and the wonderful small, sweet-tasting shrimp that are associated with belgian cuisine. [side note :: if you want to be really old school, you could go to belgium and capture the shrimp yourself on horseback. i couldn't do that on a few hours notice, but believe me, it's now on my bucket list.]

waterzooi is built on a base of white potatoes and broth, which in this case was fish broth combined with sauteed onions and celery. most recipes recommend onions, celery and carrots as the base, but i have to be honest and say that nine times out of ten, i fucking hate the taste of carrots that have been subjected to boiling liquid, so i left them out. [grill or sautée me some carrots, even if some preparatory boiling is required, and i'll be yours forever.]

the seafood, in my case shrimp, scallops and mussels, is submerged [i.e., covered completely] in the broth and allowed to cook. if you use fish, make sure you add that first and the seafood a bit later and, if you're using mussels in the shell, add those last of all. when it's cooked sufficiently, remove the fish and seafood from the broth and place the broth back on the heat. while you're waiting for it to reach a boil, combine an egg yolk with 100ml of cream. [this was enough for two people. if you're making the stew for more than that, use two egg yolks and 200ml of cream. my advice is to base the amounts of everything you use on the amount of fish and seafood. when cooking, there should be enough broth to cover the fish flesh. adjust your proportions accordingly.] when the broth has returned to a boil, reduce the heat enough for it to stop boiling [you can let it boil until it reduces a little if you want] and then add the cream-egg mixture. do not let it return to a boil again. you are going to need to keep an eye on the little bastard. keep it on low heat and whisk like a motherfucker. if you see any hint of separation, sprinkle some cold water on the pot/ pan and pray. as a bit of a "french twist" on the proceedings, i threw some tarragon into the broth as it boiled. [i also put some in the potato boiling water.] although you aren't making a true hollandaise sauce, adding the tarragon does make the whole thing reminiscent of a bernaise, what with the eggs and the fear and all.

when serving, i recommend doing layers: potatoes, followed by fish/ seafood, followed by nicely thickened broth. depending on how thick you want the broth, you can add flour, increase the egg count or just let it boil for longer so that it reduces naturally. but make your decision before you do your final plating. once you've decided on the consistency, you're pretty much married to it.

for what it's worth, dominic declared this belgian-with-french-influence confection to be one of his favourite eat the cup dishes of all time. [if you want to go even more french, have some baguette to sop up the creamy, oceanic broth.]  i'd say that the result is not a chowder or a bisque or a soup. it's very much its own thing and that's why i love it. the most challenging thing about it is that it's going to require multiple pots and bowls to mix and cook everything. that said, it's not rocket science. i was able to read a book while preparing the meal and no one died.

my slightly frenchified take on waterzooi can be pretty filling, so make sure you leave room for something sweet.

man candy of the match

switching our focus momentarily to one of the remaining quarterfinal matches, let's all take a moment to appreciate the staggering beauty that is croatian defender dejan lovren.

the defender gets a lot of criticism from croatian and liverpool fans for his performances, which is largely unwarranted when you look at how determined and passionate he is on the field. he did flounder a bit under the tutelage of brendan rogers at liverpool, which may have turned fans sour on him in general, but he's a pretty astounding force to have in your corner. yes, he's going to pick up a card or two, hopefully not in the same game, but he's also going to give heart and soul to make sure that the opposition doesn't make it anywhere near the net.

that smile alone would distract me
you don't need that shirt anyway
truth be told, i would be happy trading places with either of them
whatever you're selling, i'm buying
seriously. i'm buying.

[ok, some of you are likely aware that there are even more titillating photos of lovren out there. at the last world cup, the croatian team was seen relaxing after a tough battle by going for a swim together. without bathing suits. some enterprising paparazzo got photos of them and it was a minor scandal. i've chosen not to post any of those photos here because they were taken without the knowledge or the permission of the men involved.]

so what's my prediction for the face-off between france and belgium? heavens to betsy. that's a hard one to call. for starters, both teams head into the match with the mindset of someone who knows what it is to taste victory at the greatest sporting event: french coach didier deschamps was the captain of team france when they won the cup in 1998; belgium's assistant manager is one thierry henry, the young phenom of that team. that's right: the unbelievable passion of the team that last won the cup on home soil is neatly divided between the teams that will meet in this tournament's first semi-final. if you want to know my opinion [and my record at predicting these things is fucking awful], i think that both teams are overflowing with talent, which means that the game should go to the better manager. and i believe that roberto martinez, who's handled teams from the very bottom to the top level of football, is a better manager than dider deschamps. i'm going with belgium.

p.s. :: in the realm of "that was a weird coincidence", i thought it was worth mentioning that i predicted one of this year's quarterfinals in the blog four years ago, combining france with uruguay. it doesn't mean anything, it just struck me as kind of odd.

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