DOUG COLEY'S CATFISH STEW - PEE DEE RIVER STYLE
2 lbs. fat back (sliced)
1 stick real butter
10 to 12 lbs. catfish filets
3 pounds onions, coarsely sliced
or 15 pounds whole catfish 8
teaspoons salt - to taste (normally one tsp. per pound of meat)
2 pods red pepper or 1 tbsp. crushed
1 tablespoon black pepper - to taste
2 quarts tomato juice
3 (12 oz.) cans evaporated milk
4 (12 oz.) cans whole yellow kernel corn
Fry fat back for grease in a 20 quart heavy duty stock pot. Remove fat
back when golden brown and all the grease/oil is cooked from the fat back. Brown fish (lightly)
on both sides in fat back grease, a few at a time and remove catfish from pot. When all
catfish are browned, fill stock pot half full with water leaving the
fat back grease in pot adding
catfish back to the pot and bring to a rolling boil. Continue boiling until meat
easily falls off bone (about 45 minutes) or filets fall apart. Remove whole catfish from
the pot and carefully de-bone adding catfish meat back to the pot. Add
salt, black pepper and red pepper and continue boiling until fish is flakey.
Add 1/2 of the onions, tomato juice and corn and boil until onions don't
float or become translucent. Then let cool down adding the rest of the onions, can milk,
butter and simmer an additional 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir frequently to
prevent sticking and adjust salt and black pepper as needed.
Serve with saltine crackers and/or oyster crackers and your favorite beverage.
Above catfish stew served up and ready to devour by yours truly Bill aka
Mickey Porter on 01-17-09. It has been about twenty years since I made
this catfish stew recipe electing to do a much easier Mickey's Salmon
Chowder instead. Also, since I no longer have a fishing boat to access
my ole catfish fishing spots on Blewett Falls Lake, Pee Dee River, Anson
County, NC, I fish with my fly rod in streams instead but that is no real
excuse because one can "bank fish" fairly productive below
Blewett Falls Dam.
NOTES: This was the catfish stew that Uncle Doug Coley taught my
brother Allen Porter and myself to make. It was made many times
outdoors in a cast iron wash pot fueled by wood. At other times, it
was made inside on an old wood stove in Uncle Doug's party room.
Doug's problem was, sometimes the more he drank, the more
red pepper he added to the stew and the catfish stew was so pepper
hot it would burn your lips on your first bowl of stew until your lips
became numb. Nevertheless, a fantastic catfish stew.
Also, several species of catfish have a oily yellowish color fat deposit at
the top of the dorsal fin below the skin about an inch or more in length and
depth toward the head of the catfish and needs to be removed. See the
pix below of the deboned catfish skeleton with the fat deposit removed from
the whole catfish.
I vividly remember back in the early 1960's when a catfish
stew was in progress with Rob Dutton somewhat intoxicated and kneeled
down below a bunch of large country cured hams that were suspended from a
hickory pole than stretched the length of the party room. Rob Dutton
proceeded to pray to the hams; that he wanted to take one of them home
with him. When suddenly without warning, one of the hams dropped from
the hickory pole and nearly struck Rob in the top of his forehead. The
ham barely missed him! Rob immediately sobered up and I don't think he
ever prayed to a ham thereafter or at least in my presence. We
concluded that the reason the ham dropped from the hickory pole was because
the hams were hanging by very soft aluminum wires and Rob must have brushed
against one of the hams causing it to move slightly (oscillate) back and forth which
caused the wire breakage!
The original catfish stew recipes from this neck of the woods consisted of
ingredients that was locally grown like red pepper, field corn, fat back,
onions, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, butter and whole milk to name a
few. A lot of recipes called for the usage of potatoes, celery,
various beans but these vegetables as a general rule tend to rob the
stew of the catfish flavor. I believe the addition of those vegetables
mentioned were used as a filler to make the stew go farther,
especially in lean times. There are no fillers in Uncle Doug's recipe, a
good combination of quality ingredients that is very pleasing to the taste
Catfish stews south of North Carolina tend to be loaded down with
vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, and okra being very thick in
consistency with the addition of a rue (thickening
ingredients) such as flour and oil which are called catfish stews but in
reality of the gumbo style instead of a stew. They are
excellent table fare nonetheless, but have departed from the traditional
North Carolina Pee Dee River style stews. Pee Dee Rivers style stews
tend to be much thinner in consistency requiring half a dozen or more
saltine crackers crushed up and added to the serving bowl before adding the
catfish stew. However, I add enough catfish to my stews to provide a much
thicker stew than mentioned above.
Recipe provided by Allen Porter on 12-18-97 with comments by Mickey Porter
and web posted on 01-07-09 by Bill aka Mickey Porter.
sequence pixs taken of catfish stew prepared on 01-17-09: I used a 13
inch diameter Townecraft skillet for frying the grease from the fat back and
browning the catfish instead of using the 22 quart heavy duty Tramontia
stock pot for the entire process. You can do it either way; however
you save one skillet to clean up if you follow the printed recipe above.
Click on thumbnails for a larger view.
The above catfish stew had a total of 8.45 lbs. of catfish of which 3.5 lbs.
were filets. I would have liked to had more catfish but this is all my
friend David Lear
of Cordova, North Carolina had on hand at the time. I allowed the
catfish stew to simmer with the lid off the pot most of the time to allow
moisture to escape reducing the water content in the catfish stew.