Catfish Stew

Catfish fill the local streams and rivers and are caught by youngsters on the end of cane poles and by good ol’ boys with fancy boats and gear. Most of the ones I see have ventured into an upriver crab trap and end up at my fishmonger’s. When the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department was putting together The South Carolina Wildlife Cookbook (now republished by the University of South Carolina Press as The Southeastern Wildlife Cookbook) in 1981, it received so many catfish stew recipes from the contributors that 11 were included in the book.

You can make this stew with dressed catfish, but the gelatinous quality you get when you use the head and skin makes the stew a hearty one.


For Each Serving

  • ½ pound dressed or ¾ pound whole catfish
  • 1 potato
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cup tomato sauce

For the Pot

  • 1 slice butt’s meat (salted pork jowl) or other cured fatty pork a pinch of Herbal Mix
  • fresh or pickled hot peppers or bottled hot pepper sauce to taste


If you’re using whole catfish, gut the fish and remove the fins and tail. In a large pot, cover the fish with water and boil until the flesh is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the fish from the water, and cool, reserving both the fish and the water. Separate the flesh from the skin and bones and set the meat aside.

Peel and dice the potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. Put the pork in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients and brown the meat over medium-high heat until the grease is rendered, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the onions and cook until they begin to become transparent, then add the cooked fish, tomatoes, potatoes, Herbal Mix, tomato sauce, and hot peppers. Add the reserved cooking water and cook uncovered over medium heat until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes. The catfish breaks apart but holds the stew together with its uniquely gelatinous shreds of flesh. Serve with corn bread.