UPDATED 10/31: Kinston chef Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s “A Chef’s Life,” is asking chefs to serve eastern North Carolina fish stew next week to raise money for Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.
Howard, owner of Chef and the Farmer restaurant, sent out an email last week asking chefs to serve the fish stew as a special from Oct. 30-Nov. 5 and donate the proceeds to United Way in Lenoir and Greene counties. (Howard dedicated an episode of her show in the second season to this distinctive fish stew, which combines pork, fish and eggs.) Howard also asked chefs to spread the word to the restaurant community to encourage participation so the list below may grow.
“After more than a week, the water has not receded and parts of my already challenged region face unprecedented devastation and a seemingly insurmountable rebuild,” Howard wrote. “As a member of the food and beverage industry, an industry that increasingly goes to bat for those in need, I’d like to propose a way we, as an extended community, can help a place and a people in dire straits.”
It is worth noting that Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, a North Carolina-based food supplier, is donating eggs, potatoes and onions to many of these restaurants to support this fish stew fundraiser.
Also Raleigh diners will want to know that there will be a Sunday Supper fundraising dinner planned from noon-4 p.m. Nov. 13. The event will feature a table with seating for 1,000 stretching down Fayetteville Street. N.C. barbecue will be served. Online tickets are not available yet but people can sign up to be notified when tickets go on sale: sundaysuppernc.org
Here’s a list of North Carolina restaurants serving fish stew by region as of Oct. 31:
Triangle: Poole’s Diner, Midtown Grille , Standard Foods and Player’s Retreat in Raleigh; Guglhupf, Bull McCabes Irish Pub, Saltbox Seafood Joint, Picnic, Piedmont, Watts Grocery and M Sushi in Durham; Crook’s Corner and Lantern in Chapel Hill; and Panciuto in Hillsborough, Little Hen Restaurant in Apex and for lunch at Herons at the Umstead Hotel in Cary.
Asheville: Zambra Tapas, Vinnie’s, White Duck Taco Shop, Chai Pani, Buxton Hall Barbecue, The Lobster Trap, Buffalo Nickel, Rhubarb, Chupacabra Latin Cafe, Ambrozia, Local Provisions, The Cantina, Blue Dream Curry House, Curate, Nightbell, The Rhu, The Hilton Asheville, Avenue M, Karen Donatelli Bakery and Cafe, Kitchen 743 at ISIS Music Hall, Village Wayside, Sunny Point Cafe, Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack and Carmel’s Kitchen and Bar.
Outside North Carolina: Terrapin and Commune in Virginia Beach, Va.; Butterfield at Hasbrouck House in Stone Ridge, NY; Txikito in Manhattan; Margot Cafe and Bar and City House in Nashville, Tenn.; Snack Bar and City Grocery in Oxford, Miss; and Glass Onion in Charleston, S.C.
If you don’t want to dine out but want to make a batch of fish stew at home, invite a few friends and set out a donation jar, here’s the recipe. Donations can be made at lenoirgreeneunitedway.org with the tag #fishstew.
This recipe mirrors the Deep Run classic, but some people add flourishes like fish heads, garlic, sausage, shrimp and additional spices. In the words of my friend Warren, “I’ve seen it done every which-a-way.” In that spirit, don’t get caught up with specific knife cuts, portion sizes or equipment. If you want to add something extra, add it. What makes this stew unique is the layering of the ingredients, the water level, the type of fish, the cooking time, the way you add the eggs, and the soft white sandwich bread for sopping up the broth. From “Deep Run Roots,” by Vivian Howard (Little Brown & Co., 2016)
1 pound sliced smoked bacon
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 pounds white or red potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
6 garlic cloves, sliced (optional)
3 pounds fish steaks, about 3 ounces each, with bones intact (red drum, rockfish or sheepshead are good options)
1 fish head, rinsed well (optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chili flakes
1 dozen eggs
1 loaf white bread
Cut the bacon slices into 1-inch squares. Brown it in the bottom of an 8- to 10-quart Dutch oven or cast-iron pot. Once it’s crisp, remove it and reserve. Whisk the tomato paste into the bacon fat, making sure you scrape up all the scattlings left from browning the bacon (another nugget of wisdom from Warren).
With the heat off, begin layering the ingredients. Keep in mind you want to end up with three layers. Start with a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of onions and of garlic, if using, followed by a layer of fish. Top the fish with a third of the salt and a third of the chili flakes. Repeat with two more layers. Fill the pot with enough water to just barely reach the top of the fish. If there’s a little fish peeking out over the top, that’s okay – better than if it’s swimming in water. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring it up to a boil slowly over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat and let it cook at a high simmer for about 15 minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness. They should be barely tender, not falling apart.
Taste the broth and add more salt if needed. Then, with the stew at a good simmer, add the eggs one by one in a single layer over the top of the stew. I like to crack the eggs into a small cup before I drop them in. What you’re trying to do is cook whole eggs in the broth. Once the eggs are cooked through, use a large ladle to portion the stew. A proper serving is at least one piece of fish, two potatoes, some onions, and an egg swimming in broth. Shower each bowl with some bacon and set it up with a slice or two of white bread.
Yield: 12 servings