Catfish Stew

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DOUG COLEY'S CATFISH STEW - PEE DEE RIVER STYLE

INGREDIENTS:

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.

YIELD:  3 gallons

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 buds.

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. 

Below 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.

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