I’ve sampled fish stews up and down the Southeastern coast at seafood restaurants and family fish fries and the aromatic combination of onions, tomatoes, potatoes and fresh fish is as comforting to me as Grandma’s vegetable soup.
My Catfish Stew features U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish, which is readily available and doesn’t require that I send my husband out for a day of fishing. Thick-cut bacon is cooked until crisp, the bacon is removed and the drippings are used to sauté diced onions and garlic. Potatoes and carrots make this stew hearty enough to stand alone as a one-pot autumn supper.
Clam juice, chicken or fish stock, or even water can be used to thin the stew, but clam juice is my preference and it is available in the canned seafood aisle of most supermarkets. A touch of white wine and a bay leaf give this soup a sophisticated edge. The combination cooks until the potatoes are tender, before two pounds of catfish fillets, tomato sauce and fresh parsley are added. The stew is simmered until the fish is falling apart, and I like to give the soup a brisk stirring before serving to break up the fish.
While the roots of this stew are “deep-South,” you can make a few changes and come up with a Mediterranean version. Simply omit the bacon and heat two tablespoons of olive oil in the Dutch oven. Add a tin of anchovies along with the onions and garlic, and then follow the recipe as directed.
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high and add the bacon. Sauté until the bacon is crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings from the pan. Add the chopped onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes, carrot, tomatoes, clam juice or broth, white wine and bay leaf and simmer for 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add the catfish, tomato sauce, chopped parsley, Tabasco, salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes more. Add the reserved bacon pieces and stir to break up the catfish pieces.
Serves 8 to 10.