Southern Fish Stew

5 from 6 votes
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Southern fish stew
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

The best stews combine ingredients that really make their origin shine, and I did just that with this Southern fish stew.

After a fishing trip to Mobile Bay with my friend Joe Baya of Great Days Outdoors, where we targeted sheepshead, I came home with lots of fish. Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, is a cousin of the porgy or scup and looks a little like a gigantic panfish or surf perch — if it was in jail.

Hank Shaw with sheepshead
Photo by Joe Baya

I used to catch them as a kid in New Jersey, where we’d call them “convict fish,” for their black-and-white stripes. They are immensely fun to catch, and their diet is high in crustaceans and mollusks, so their meat is almost crab-like. White, firm, flaky.

Sheepshead make a great stew fish, but many other fish would work here, too. Bass fillets, snapper, grouper, black seabass, Pacific rockfish, perch, lingcod, chunks of pike, and, above them all, tautog, which is the finest stew fish in North America. But as this is a Southern stew, tautog, a Northeastern fish, would be out of place.

The inspiration for this Southern fish stew is a dish known as Alabama camp stew, which is normally made with a selection of canned ingredients so you can make it in deer camp. Canned tomatoes, corn and beans, and, well, canned pork, which I am not a fan of.

While this stew does use canned tomatoes, I made my own hominy from heirloom Tennessee corn, and used dried black-eyed peas. You can use canned hominy (or some other corn), and canned beans, too.

I also used dried okra I had in the pantry. I happen to like reconstituted okra a lot, better than frozen, but any sort of okra would be good — especially fresh!

southern fish stew closeup
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Another thing I like in this stew is the use of chicken (or in my case, pheasant) broth instead of a fish broth. You can use either, but the chicken broth tames the fish-ness of the stew. The fish then becomes a welcome guest in the stew, not a main player.

This stew uses a special seasoning blend common in the South called Cavender’s Seasoning. I’ve seen it in supermarkets here in Northern California, but if you can’t find it, skip it or add some garlic and thyme.

A final piece to this Southern fish stew is very, very Southern: Conecuh sausage. Those of you who know, know. For those of you who don’t, Conecuh is to Alabama as Taylor Ham is to New Jersey: A breakfast meat with a cult following. It is a proprietary recipe, and there is nothing exactly like it. That said, any smoked sausage you like will do.

The result is a rich stew that gives you different flavor combinations at every bite. The fish is, as I mentioned, present, but not overwhelming. If you want a more seafood-y stew, I suggest adding things that sheepshead eat: shrimp and crab. Both would b great additions.

You can also sub in homemade fish stock for the chicken stock to make it more oceanic.

Southern Fish stew recipe
5 from 6 votes

Southern Fish Stew

I made this with sheepshead, but you can use any fish that is firm, freshwater or saltwater. If you can't find Conecuh, use whatever smoked sausage you like. 
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients 

  • 3 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh okra, sliced (or 1 cup dried)
  • 2 teaspoons Cavender's seasoning (optional)
  • 1 quart chicken or seafood stock
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked hominy or other corn (canned or frozen is fine)
  • 2 cups cooked black-eyed peas or butter beans (canned or frozen is fine)
  • 1 pound Conecuh or other smoked sausage, sliced
  • 2 pounds sheepshead or other fish, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives or parsley
  • Saltines (optional)

Instructions 

  • In a large soup pot, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat and saute the chopped onion, stirring often, until it just begins to color around the edges, about 5 to 8 minutes. 
  • Add the okra and Cavender's seasoning and stir well. Saute this for 3 minutes or so if you have fresh or frozen okra. If you are using dried, just mix it around a bit. 
  • Pour in the water, stock and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and add salt to taste. Add the hominy, beans and sausage. Simmer, don't boil, for 15 minutes. 
  • Add the fish and simmer another 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped chives and serve. If you want to bulk this up a bit, crush Saltines into the soup while eating. 

Nutrition

Calories: 450kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 102mg | Sodium: 776mg | Potassium: 864mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 329IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 75mg | Iron: 3mg

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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16 Comments

  1. Looking forward to making this. I thought the following might be useful-
    Conecuh Sausage

    25# Pork
    1 Bag Legg’s #10 sausage seasoning
    1.5 oz. non iodized salt
    2.0 oz. Sugar
    2 Tbs + 1 Tsp Thyme
    5 Tsp. Cure #1
    1.5Tbs MSG
    20 oz. ice water

    Grind cold pork through large plate. Combine seasonings and cure with ice water and add to meat. Mix well and regrind through 3/16” plate. Stuff into 35-38mm hog casings. Cold smoke with Hickory 8-10 hours, raise smokehouse temp to 150-160 and smoke 4-5 hours.

  2. Hank, when you dry okra, do you cut it up first or dry it whole? I should have a mess of it in the garden this year, and while it’s good frozen, it’d be a lot easier to bring it to elk camp dried.

    1. John: I slice it, then dry it. You can also boil it in salty water for 1 minute, then slice and dry, which preserves its color.

  3. I used to live near Harrison AR where Cavenders Greek Seasoning is made. Unfortunately, it has a lot of MSG in it and many people are sensitive to that.
    An alternative to Cavenders (and I think a superior blend) is Konriko.
    Hard to find but worth the search . Made in Louisiana.

  4. I read this a little too early in the morning. I thought you wrote “cadaver” seasoning! Those southern boys. Of course they call it that! Camp stew humor – been there.
    Looks like Greek not heat? If I sub a fresh Greek mix will it take a lot of green stuff or should I keep it simple.? I was thinking Portuguese as I read it. But the corn….

  5. seems like the wonderful Combo my husband and I had in a Mississipi town.
    I was given the recipe but seemed much more complicated

  6. Would you please send me the recipe for making your own hominy? I live in Israel, where we cannot find it but we can find dried corn. Thank you so much! Really enjoy your blog!

    1. Anne: You need calcium hydroxide, or cal, as they call it in Mexico. If you don’t have it, you need wood ashes. Not sure how much you’d need. My advice is to just find dried field corn. Cook that in advance of making the stew and add it in when you’re making it.

  7. Though I’ve never tried it, I’ve heard sheepshead can be used to make a mock crab by boiling in crab/crawfish boil.