If you spend any time in Eastern North Carolina, you will probably run across a bowl of this fish stew. While just about every local has his or her own version, they all share an oniony, rich tomato broth and hearty red potatoes.
Along the coast, you are likely to see salt water fish like grouper, redfish, or sheepshead, but inland cooks often use freshwater fish like bass or catfish. We prefer fillets from larger catfish for the dish.
Every local in North Carolina will tell you their recipe is best, but they all share a few common traits like the addition of eggs at the end of the cooking process. The eggs poach in the spicy, rich broth and everyone needs at least one in their bowl.
We use both bacon and smoked sausage in our recipe for a smoky background that fits well with the potatoes and tomato broth.
2 to 3 pounds thick fish fillets
bass or catfish work well
6 slices thick-cut bacon cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 onions halved and sliced thin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
4 cups water
2 cups beer
1(6-ounce) can tomato paste
2 pounds red potatoes unpeeled quartered
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon your favorite hot sauce with more for serving
1 pound smoked sausage sliced
8 large eggs
Salt & pepper
Start by rendering the bacon in the bottom of a heavy pot. Once the bacon is brown and crisp, remove it from the pot. Add the onions to the remaining bacon grease, salting lightly, and sauté until softened, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, smoked sausage and potatoes, stirring until everything is well blended. Cover the pot and cook for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes start to soften just a bit.
Add the bay leaves, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, Cajun seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, water and beer. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Add the fish, adding more water to the pot if needed to make sure the fish is covered. Return the cooked bacon to the pot. Simmer, covered, for another 30 minutes.
Crack the eggs one at a time into a cup. Gently pour each egg into the simmering broth so that it poaches on the surface. Continue until all eggs are evenly spread over the surface of the stew. Cover the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes. Make sure each bowl gets a poached egg and plenty of fish and potatoes. We serve each bowl with a chunk of crusty French bread to sop up the broth.
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