East African Fish Stew

4.84 from 18 votes
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If you’re looking for a fun, bright and tasty East African fish stew, you’re in the right place.

There’s something about tropical food that’s just exciting — vivid colors, summertime ingredients, exotic flavors, and a constant balance of sweet-salty-sour-spicy that makes you want to eat more then you really ought to.

A bowl of East African fish stew
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

But when you try to cook it yourself, too often you get hung up on hard-to-find ingredients. And while I use a couple here, there are easy substitutions available in any supermarket that make this stew accessible anywhere.

What is an “African fish stew” anyway? After all, Africa is a big place, far larger than the United States, made up of countless cultures. Well, this dish takes its inspiration from the Swahili Coast in East Africa, where it’s hot, there are lots of fish, and there is a significant Indian influence on the cuisine.

You could easily find something like this stew anywhere from Mozambique to Kenya, a 2500-mile stretch that covers most of Africa’s east coast. The recipe relies on vegetables, fish and shrimp or crab, coconut milk, and a bit of curry powder.

You can buy curry powder in pretty much any supermarket in America, and canned coconut milk isn’t much harder to find. What’s more, coconut water — the water inside a coconut you see people drinking on desert islands — has become some sort of fitness fad and cartons of it are popping up all over in markets. If you can find coconut water, you can use it in this stew in place of regular water to add one more layer of flavor.

Other than that, this African fish stew is super easy to make: Onions, sweet peppers, potatoes, some tomato, a few chiles, any fish you want, some shrimp or crab, and cilantro for garnish. Easy-peasy.

I like to make a quick fish broth for the stew using the heads and bones from the fish I just caught, but you can skip that if you don’t want to bother. I have instructions for the broth here.

What fish to use? I used striped bass, but pretty much any fish you can think of would be fine. In general I’d aim for a white, lean fish — walleye, perch, bass, catfish, snapper, rockfish, grouper, cod or haddock, etc., etc. — but you could do this with tuna, or salmon, or a warm water fish like Spanish or king mackerel or wahoo. You get the point.

I serve this East African fish stew alongside coconut rice: Medium- or long-grain rice cooked in coconut water and a little coconut milk (3 tablespoons per 1 cup of uncooked rice). But regular rice, or even just bread would be fine.

A bowl of East African fish stew
4.84 from 18 votes

East African Fish Stew

Use any firm fish here, and whatever shrimp or crab you have available. I like making a fish stock from the heads and bones of the fish I am using, but you can skip that and use chicken stock instead, or even water. Use coconut water for the water in the stew if you can get it, otherwise just skip it. Serve this fish stew with rice. 
Course: Soup
Cuisine: East African
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
To Make Broth: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour



  • 2 to 4 pounds fish heads and bones, gills and guts removed
  • 2 quarts coconut water or just plain water
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • A 1-inch piece of ginger, chopped


  • 2 tablespoons red palm oil, peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 sweet bell peppers, diced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 to 2 habanero chiles, minced (optional)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 pound fish, skinless and boneless, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/2 to 1 pound peeled shrimp or crabmeat
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro


  • In a large, heavy pot like a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the onions until soft, but not browned.
  • Add the tomato sauce, curry powder and potatoes and stir well. Pour in about 6 cups of the broth you just made, or chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and taste for salt. Simmer gently until the potatoes are almost tender, about 20 minutes. 
  • Add the sweet peppers, the chiles, the diced tomato and the coconut milk. Stir well and simmer gently for 10 minutes. 
  • Add the fish and shrimp and simmer until the shrimp are nice and pink, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the cilantro, cook another minute, then serve. 


Calories: 364kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 726mg | Potassium: 1661mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 4951IU | Vitamin C: 80mg | Calcium: 151mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. It’s the season of Lent. This stew is perfect and so easy to make. I especially like the tweaks some have added. This is so versatile, delicious and easy. Thank you!!!

  2. My family and I loved it! I subbed a can of whole cherry tomatoes, which I drained into the sauce with the potatoes and then chopped the tomatoes and added them at the later step. I used only cod as I didn’t have shrimp or crab on hand.


    Best soup I have ever had. I love the fact that there really wasn’t a need for dry seasonings. This stew is naturally favored . My family can’t stop asking for more.

  4. Fantastic stew! I had a bunch of fresh Tilapia that needed to be used and came across this recipe. We are currently in the middle of a winter storm and this is exactly what I was wanting. My wife as I agree that it’s warming and comforting. Like eating a hug. 🙂 Thanks for the recipe, we will be adding it to our book of great meals. Cheers.

  5. I’ve made this recipe a couple of times trying to expand things to do with the crappie I catch. This recipe rocks. I always end up eating too much.

  6. This recipe is now a family cooking requirement. My 11 year old recently said after a successful fishing trip, “Dad knows everyone wants the fish stew, tell him to quit messing around and make it.”

    Ive made it with crappie and bass, redfish, whiting (gulf kingfish) and even hard head catfish and its great in all forms.

    1. I love seeing reproductions of coastal East African food. Our fish stew can be simple or complicated, but the base ingredients are

      Lemon/lime/tamarind juice
      Coconut milk.

      You can pre -fry or grill the fish before adding it to the stew.

  7. This is the second time making this stew, this time im gonna use swordfish & shrimp my husband didn’t like the spice so Ill dail it back and add leeks and spinach with the potatoes
    Thank you so much for this recipe it’s delicious

  8. Made this for dinner. It was good but not the best stew. It was more bland then i thought it would be. It looks delicious though and i didnt put shrimp in mine.
    Maybe eat it again but try to add more seasonings

  9. This recipe was delicious. I did make some adjustments only because of what I had on hand. In my area, it’s difficult to find fish heads and bones so I used fish sauce and the shells to the shrimp for the broth. Overall, it was fantastic. Thanks!

  10. We just made this tonight and it was a lot milder than 2 habeneros would lead one to believe. We really loved it tho and will probably keep the recipe in our dinner rotation.

  11. Oh my goodness. This soup is exactly what I had on my recent trip to Mozambique, so amazing that I ordered it three times in five days and nearly licked the bowl every time. Making it this weekend! Thanks for posting!

  12. Hi Hank…I’m a great fan, but not an intuitive cook, so I have a rather dumb question…

    “I like to make a quick fish broth for the stew using the heads and bones from the fish I just caught…I have instructions for the broth below.

    “Pour in about 6 cups of the broth you just made,”

    But I don’t see any specific instructions for the broth…just combine ingredients and simmer? How long is best?

  13. Hank, made this for dinner tonight (chicken broth and jalepeno pepper) and my husband thinks I am a super star. I did however let him know it was a “Hank” recipe. As incredible as all your recipes we have made.

  14. Fascinating! I’ve been cooking Caribbean cuisine a lot lately, with smoked herring, and this will be a nice change! Did you see East African recipes like this before, or did you learn about their cuisine and put together the pieces yourself? Either way, I will look into getting the ingredients for this.


    1. Hunter: I have a degree in African history, and my focus was East Africa. I learned Swahili and a lot about the culture and food. Been to Nairobi, too.

  15. Perfect timing, Hank, I have all these ingredients and will make it tonight! Hope all is well in your world.