Booyah: from Belgium to Wisconsin

Booyah: from Belgium to Wisconsin

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

We are now in the throes of soup season and for many Midwesterners, this means booyah season. While many hear the word "booyah" and think of Wisconsin, Minnesota or Michigan and afternoons tailgating football games, this communal and creative stew actually has European origins. I wanted to retrace the history of this unique soup–stew back to Europe.

Like many food traditions, the stories and origins of booyah contain lots of speculation, hometown pride and inventiveness.

While it seems difficult to say exactly how booyah originated, there is a fair amount of confidence that the chicken stew was brought by immigrants from the Walloon region, a French-speaking area of Belgium. Others claim Eastern European roots, from Bohemian and Hungarian immigrants. Various stories try to unearth the root of the word “booyah” and some say it was a mispronunciation of “bouillon,” a word for “boil” and “broth” of the Walloon language. Others speculate it came from French Canadian immigrants or possibly the French seafood dish called “bouillabaisse.”

So, what is booyah? Even though the roots of the name might always be a mystery, there is more agreement on what booyah is, generally. As the name might suggest, it is based on a long-simmered broth made with chicken and sometimes including beef or pork. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, celery and tomatoes are added. But three other non-food ingredients are essential to booyah.

One is time, as the best booyahs are those that simmer and cook for hours to meld the flavors of the meats and seasonings. The second non-food ingredient is size. Booyah is all about making a huge batch, sometimes over an outdoor fire for the community to share. Thirdly, it’s about invention, creativity and using what you have. Every booyah cook will have their own beloved version and each batch may be different based on what meats or vegetables are available. 

Today’s Midwestern booyah season takes place at tailgates, church fundraisers and other community events, with people bringing Crock-pots and ice cream buckets to take their own stash home (after eating a few warm helpings with their neighbors, of course).

With COVID-19 and the restrictions on community gatherings, booyah season looks different. But you can still celebrate the spirit of booyah and appreciate the many miles it has traveled and stories it has created from Europe to Midwestern communities. 

Here is one recipe you can make at home for your family, with enough to freeze for future meals. As with all booyah creations, feel free to change up what the recipe calls for based on what’s in your fridge and what you like to eat!

Booyah

Start to finish: 3 hours 30 minutes

Serves: 10

2.5 pounds beef short ribs, preferably bone-in, English-style, meat and bones separated

2.5 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 yellow onions, chopped fine

2 celery ribs, minced

8 cups chicken broth

2 bay leaves

4 cups shredded green cabbage

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

8 ounces rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 cup frozen peas

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Pat beef and chicken dry and season with salt and black pepper.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Brown beef on all sides, about 10 minutes and transfer to plate. Brown chicken on all sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to plate. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin and discard.

Pour off all but 1 1/2 teaspoons fat from pot. Add onions and celery, cooking over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth and bay leaves, scraping up brown bits. Add beef, beef bones and chicken and bring to boil.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to bowl. When it is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-size pieces and discard bones. Set aside.

Continue to simmer until beef is tender, about 1 1/4 hours longer. Transfer beef to plate and shred into bite-size pieces when it is cool enough to handle, discarding fat as you go. Remove and discard beef bones and bay leaves.

Strain broth through strainer, discarding solids. Let the liquid settle, about 5 minutes, and then skim off fat and return broth to pot.

Add shredded beef, cabbage, tomatoes, rutabaga, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper to broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low and simmer until rutabaga is translucent around edges, about 15 minutes.

Stir in potatoes and carrots and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add chicken and peas, and simmer until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve!

(This recipe was adapted from A Farmgirl’s Dabbles.)

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