Eastern North Carolina fish stew

Recipe from Chef Vivian Howard, Chef and the Farmer, Kinston, NC

The down-home style of this stew relies on a simple method of layering ingredients with a final addition of eggs right at the end, making for an unexpected addition to the finished stew. While its method is straightforward, it’s essential to never, ever stir the stew . . . despite every urge you’ll have to do so.

1/2 pound sliced smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 ounces tomato paste
1 1/2 pounds white or red potatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 pound yellow onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick  
1 1/2 pounds fish, cut into 3-ounce pieces (red drum, striped bass, or similar), skin and bones removed
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
6 eggs, cracked into individual cups
1 loaf white bread

  1. In a large pot, add bacon and cook over medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add tomato paste to bacon fat and whisk until incorporated, scraping up brown bits from bottom of pan. 
  3. Remove from heat and begin layering ingredients. Begin with 1/3 of potatoes, followed by 1/3 of onions, followed by 1/3 of fish. Top fish with 1/3 of salt and 1/3 of chili flakes. Repeat with 2 more layers. Fill pot with enough water to just barely reach top of fish. Cover pot and slowly bring to a boil. Do this slowly to prevent stew from scorching. Once boiling, reduce heat and cook at a high simmer for about 15 minutes.
  4. When potatoes are tender, taste broth and add more salt if necessary. With stew at a good simmer, add eggs one at a time, in a single layer over top of stew.  Once eggs are cooked through, ladle into bowls, including fish, potatoes, onions, an egg, and broth in each serving. Top each with bacon and serve with white bread.

Serves 6.