This North Carolina Fish Stew is loaded with chunks of fish, bacon, potatoes and onions in a seasoned tomato broth, then finished off with eggs cooked right in the stew… it’s an Eastern NC classic!
This fish stew is a seafood tradition in my family; we’ve enjoyed it for as long as I can remember. The flavors are complex, but it’s actually a simple, no-fuss recipe.
As you can see, the ingredients are quite simple!
- Use a FIRM fish, such as red drum or sheepshead. You want the fish to be chunky in this stew. If you use a flaky fish, it will break apart so much during cooking, you’ll hardly know it’s even there.
- Don’t stir the pot! Even when using a firm fish, it will still break up some during cooking. If you stir, you’ll risk the chance of breaking the fish up into tiny little pieces, and we don’t want that. You can very gently (and carefully) shake the pot back and forth (while the lid is on) a few times while it’s cooking, but it is not mandatory.
- Freeze your bacon for about 20 to 30 minutes before cutting. This firms it up, making it easier to cut into pieces.
- If you want to do your prep work ahead of time, place your peeled and cut potatoes in a large bowl of cold water with a splash of lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Store covered in the fridge for up to 24 hours before using in the stew.
Start off by frying bacon in a large (8 to 10 quart) pot or Dutch oven. I highly recommend a 10 quart stockpot, as I used an 8 quart and was pushing the limit with my pot’s capacity. Once cooked, transfer the bacon to a plate and leave the fat in the pot.
On top of the fat left in the pot, you will layer the ingredients. The first layer will be the potatoes.
The next layer will be chopped yellow onion.
Place the fish chunks on top of the yellow onion layer.
Then you’ll add tomato soup, stewed tomatoes, seasonings and just enough water to cover the ingredients. It’s okay if a few of the tomatoes are a little above the water. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and cook.
During the last few minutes of cook time, you’ll add the eggs and allow them to gently boil until fully cooked, about 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with cornbread, hushpuppies or saltine crackers.
More Seafood Soups and Chowders
North Carolina Fish Stew
- ½ pound thick cut bacon cut into 1 inch pieces
- 3 pounds white potatoes peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces (about 8 cups)
- 2 pounds yellow onions chopped (about 7 cups)
- 3 pounds firm fish such as red drum or sheepshead filets, sliced into about 3 inch pieces
- 1 (10 ¾ ounce) can condensed tomato soup
- 2 (14 ½ ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
- Pinch red pepper
- 5 cups water approximately
- 6 large eggs
- Cook bacon until crisp over medium heat in an 8 to 10 quart Dutch oven or heavy pot (I recommend a 10 quart), about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn off heat, remove bacon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Set bacon aside and leave fat in pot.
- Add potatoes, onions and fish in layers (in the order written) in the pot over the fat. Do not stir.
- Pour in tomato soup and stewed tomatoes with juices.
- Add salt, pepper, Old Bay Seasoning and red pepper.
- Add just enough water to cover (approximately 5 cups). Do not stir.
- Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil/high simmer (medium to medium low).
- Cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender (but not falling apart) and fish is fully cooked.
- While stew is at a gentle boil, add eggs one at a time (break the eggs and put the raw eggs into the stew, then discard shells) in a single layer on top of the stew. Cook until eggs are fully cooked (about 4 to 5 minutes). Note that the eggs will break up into chunks while they're cooking.
- Season with additional salt, pepper, Old Bay Seasoning and/or red pepper, if desired.
- Return reserved bacon to stew or serve topped with reserved bacon.
- Do not stir while cooking, you’ll risk breaking up the fish chunks. You can very gently (and carefully) shake the pot back and forth (while the lid is on) a few times while the stew is cooking, but it is not mandatory.
- Cook time includes the time it takes for stew to come to a gentle boil (approximately 20 minutes)
- This recipe yields approximately 7 quarts, which is 14 (2 cup) servings
- Red pepper flakes can be added or substituted for red pepper.
- Diced tomatoes with juices can be substituted for stewed tomatoes
If provided, nutritional info is a courtesy, is not guaranteed and should only be considered as a guideline.
Originally published December 10, 2011. Updated with photographs, helpful tips and recipe revised April 2020.