Catfish stew—is it Southern? I mean, what is Southern food? You got six months for a chat over a number of cases of bourbon? There will be some tears and some wrestling of emotions and probably real wrestling, too.
The short of it is that stewed catfish dishes are widely found across western Africa, particularly in Nigeria, and the very similar methods and results of those stews have been around in North America since way before George Washington’s parents ever got to first base.
So yes, catfish stew is a Southern recipe because it exists in our history of Southern food. Not to get all serious on you, but many recipes and foodways in the Southern United States exist only because of slavery, something that we need to come to terms with and honor in the right, solemn way. These are recipes that were never meant to be here, yet have become an important part of our cuisine. I just want to make sure that we remember that. Respect.
So go make some food and gather round the table and talk about where all of these flavors come from and what that all means. ’Cause it means a lot to converse about where we have been as a culture, and where we are going.—Hugh Acheson, author of The Chef and the Slow Cooker
- 1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes
- 1/2 Pound slab bacon, small-diced
- 1 large sweet onion, small-diced
- 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and small-diced
- 1 celery stalk, small-diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 Teaspoon ground mace
- 1 Teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 Cups bottled clam juice
- 2 Cups Fish Stock or Vegetable Stock
- 1 Pound fingerling potatoes cut into 1-inch-thick rounds
- Kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 1/2 Pound catfish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 Cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1/2 Cup store-bought pickled banana peppers
- Freshly ground black pepper
Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into a food processor and pulse to break them down a bit.
Set a slow cooker to the high setting. Add the bacon and cook until most of the fat has rendered, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook for 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. (Alternatively, this can be done in a large skillet over medium heat; cook the bacon for 10 minutes, the onion, bell pepper, and celery for 2, then the garlic for 1, and place it all in the slow cooker.)
Add the tomatoes, cloves, mace, allspice, clam juice, stock, potatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt to the slow cooker. Cover with the lid, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 4 hours or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt.
Season the catfish pieces with salt, add them to the slow cooker, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the butter to the cooker and stir it in gently. Then ladle the stew into a soup tureen or directly into individual bowls. Garnish with the parsley and banana peppers, and finish with a grind of black pepper and additional salt to taste. (Somewhere in those plates there will be 4 whole cloves. You can pick them out, or live on the edge.)
Reprinted from "The Chef and the Slow Cooker" by Hugh Acheson. Copyright © 2017 by Fried Pie, LLC. Photographs copyright © 2017 by Andrew Thomas Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.