The term "booyah!" has grown popular as an expression of satisfaction or praise, but where I grew up, booyah is a chicken-and-multi-vegetable soup cooked outdoors in oversized kettles. To locals of Brown, Kewaunee and southern Door counties, "a booyah" is also an event - a church picnic, family reunion or any special occasion where the community gathers to savor its one-pot-feeds-all connection.
Associated with the Belgian Americans of northeastern Wisconsin, booyah can be prepared any time of the year. But its time-honored season is late summer through fall, when local produce is at its most bountiful, and when outdoor picnics are most likely to take place. Indeed, it's been said that the area's early booyah feasts hark back to settlers' harvest festivals, in particular to the Belgian Kermiss celebrations of the 19th century.
Thus, like many folks from the region, I grew up thinking of booyah as a Belgian tradition. But I've since learned - from research done by UW folklore professor Janet Gilmore - that booyah's origins aren't so straightforward. It's a broader-based foodway of the Great Lakes region, one probably related to the boiled meals that the area's first peoples prepared over open fires. They shared their soupy stews of wild game (or fish) and vegetables with missionaries and French fur traders, who in turn used their own terms to describe the concoctions. The name that stuck may have the same root as the French bouillon, meaning soup or broth.
And sure enough, no matter how many Belgian cookbooks I've pored through over the years, I've never found a recipe that reads like the booyah - soup or event - I know. No matter. Long-simmered, thick with vegetables, booyah is more than a meal, it's a regional icon.
Makes 3-4 gallons
This "indoor" booyah would be considered a small-quantity recipe in northeastern Wisconsin, where vast quantities are prepared outside at community events. The traditional accompaniments are oyster crackers and a Wisconsin brew.
- 1 pound beef chuck
- 2 pounds onions, divided
- 2-4 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- 5-6 pounds cut-up stewing chicken (Don't use frying chickens; they don't have the depth of flavor and they will turn to mush from the long cooking. Ask for stewing chickens from farmers' market vendors.)
- water or unsalted chicken stock
- 1 bunch celery
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 pound cabbage
- 2 pounds potatoes
- 1/2 pound green beans
- 1-1/2 to 2 pounds peeled and chopped tomatoes or 1 can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 pound corn kernels
- 1/2 pound peas
- fresh lemon juice
- soy sauce
- bouillon cubes (optional)
Place beef in very large pot with 1 cup of the onion, plus the bay leaves and some salt and pepper. Add water or chicken stock (or some of each) to fill pot one-third full. Bring to simmer, skimming surface as needed, and cook slowly a half-hour. Add chicken and enough water or stock to cover meat. Continue to simmer very slowly for another hour or two.
Meanwhile, chop the vegetables (except peas and corn) and set aside in separate bowls.
When meats are tender, remove them from the broth to cool. Add vegetables (including remaining onions) one type at a time to the broth, allowing soup to return to a simmer before the next type is added.
Remove bones and skin from chicken and beef. Chop meats; add to pot. Simmer soup slowly for at least two hours. (Water or stock may be added as necessary.) Authentic booyah is brothy, like a soup, but with the vegetable and meat solids melded together somewhat, like a stew. Season to taste with lemon, soy sauce, bouillon (if desired), salt and pepper.