Pamlico Muddle

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes



Appears in

The Glory of Southern Cooking

The Glory of Southern Cooking

By James Villas

Published 2007

  • About

It was the earliest English colonists who introduced muddles (“a mess of fish”), mulls, and other robust seafood soups and stews to the barrier islands that separate North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean, and today the tradition continues all along the remote Outer Banks. I’ve had muddles so thick with fish and shellfish you could almost eat them with a fork, but the best I’ve tasted were much more like this amazingly light, herby concoction, which tastes so good on a cold winter’s night with coleslaw and some form of cornbread. I’ve heard that for one style of muddle, eggs are poached in the broth and served on top the soup. Sounds a bit bizarre to me, but I’d still love to try that.


  • 4 slices bacon
  • 3 medium onions, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups bottled clam broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ pound fresh grouper, red snapper, or other nonoily white fish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¼ pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • ¼ pound fresh sea scallops, quartered


In a large, heavy pot, fry the bacon over moderate heat till crisp, drain on paper towels, crumble, and reserve. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring, till very soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, clam broth, water, lemon juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper, thyme, and bay leaf, bring to a low simmer, cover, and cook 1 hour.

Add the grouper, shrimp, and scallops, return to a simmer, and cook till the fish begins to flake, about 8 minutes. Serve the muddle in deep soup bowls with crumbled bacon sprinkled over the top of each portion.