Booyah, NE Wisconsin's Soup Of Choice

by Chris Seroogy
| February 17, 2017
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Anytime is booyah time in northeastern Wisconsin. But Chris Seroogy finds it particularly good when the snow flies.

The leaves have fallen, flurries whip past the window, and it’s time for another season.  I am, of course, referring to soup season.  There’s nothing better than boiling up a pot of soup on a cold, dark day that brings cheer to any room.  The aroma wafts around corners, drifts down hallways, from kitchen to great room to bedroom.

To me fall and winter is soup time, but there’s a tradition here in northeast Wisconsin in which soup is cooked up all year in a traditional style.  It may be 90 degrees outside but a neighbor or a church will be cooking a pot of booyah: chicken booyah.  The delectable main dish can’t be found in California or Colorado or any other state unless, of course, some person is a Wisconsin transplant with a Belgium heritage. 

Still, the frost whitens the grass, and it is time to gather ingredients for chicken booyah.  I wonder just what the difference is between booyah and chicken soup.  They both call for chicken, they both have vegetables, and they both simmer for hours.  So, I did what any person seeking answers would do: I went online and checked with my mom for the fine points.

Belgium immigrants settled the shores of Lake Michigan in northeast Wisconsin.  Here they carried on their European soup tradition, and the word booyah comes from either the French or Walloon language spoken by them.  The booyah recipe presented included beef and pork stew meats in addition to chicken.  There are also many variations of the recipe.  Some web sources called for herbs.  Many stated that the chicken must be stewing chickens and not fryers. 

My mom has her own process.  After she’s cooked the meat for hours and deboned it, she smashes the meat into stringy, broth-infused morsels with a potato masher.  My brother-in-law, once seeing my mother crunching the meat in such a manner, informed her that the animals were already dead.  She took the jibe in stride and continued mashing. 

Of course there’s the debate among booyah connoisseurs about the ingredients and how best to make the soup.  However, there’s also a local debate among cooks about whether to add cabbage.  An unsubstantiated belief claims that adding cabbage ruins the soup for storage.  My mother adds cabbage, and therefore, so will I.  Now the pot, chucked full of meat, vegetables and simmering broth, is ready.  The aroma begins its journey throughout the house.

Now some non-Wisconsinites may call this just chicken soup.  However, in this northeast part of the state, in fall and well, really any hot or cold season, booyah is the soup du jour.  It’s a meal created in a large pot with several meats, stewed all day, and may be carted home from church picnics or bazaars in plastic containers.  Ah, the aroma alone is delicious!  Soups on!

Tags: Belgium / immigrants / ethnic / soup / booyah / chicken / recipe / Belgian / NE Wisconsin / mom / family / recipes / chicken booyah

Chris Seroogy is a retired teacher, writer, and poet in De Pere.