Carolina Fish Muddle

I bet you’d almost given up on me!  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to cook something worth posting it’s that I haven’t been home much and when I have been it’s been mostly when I needed to sleep.  I finally made it to the grocery store late last night and I finally made it into the kitchen in time to make dinner.  Turns out it’s quite a dinner!

I’d never heard of fish muddle until I stumbled upon this on  It sounds a little bit gross.  The original recipe is called Bacon Infused Carolina Fish Muddle.  Clearly I decided to read it because of the bacon.  I left it out of the title here because I didn’t want to discourage folks who don’t eat bacon from reading further.  I think you could make this very successfully without the bacon.  A tiny touch of liquid smoke would replace it well enough.  (But for those of you who do eat bacon it’s really good in here).


Of course I didn’t make it exactly according to the recipe.  First, I mostly halved the recipe because the original says it makes six servings and the fish would spoil before I got through it all.  I say mostly because I used the whole amount of shrimp stock and nearly the whole amount of fish.  I skipped the part where you make the shrimp stock because I had some in the freezer.  My shrimp stock was infused with lemongrass, but I decided that was ok.  I didn’t puree the tomatoes because I prefer them a little chunky.I left out the potatoes because I think having potatoes in a stew that you serve over rice is weird. I used catfish and snapper instead of striped bass and grouper because it’s what looked the best at Kroger last night.  I used green Tabasco instead of red because it’s my favorite.  And I punted the croutons made with bacon grease because that seemed like overkill.  That’s a lot of adjustments, but I feel like the flavor and overall texture of the dish are pretty true.

Make sure you have some time on your hands when you make this.  It took me about 90 minutes from start to finish including chopping and cooking.  You could absolutely do your chopping the day before to speed things up by about 30 minutes.  There are a couple more things you should know.  The snapper is a mild, but meaty fish that works really well in here.  It holds together really well.  (The catfish tends to flake a little).  Here’s a tip:  if you choose to use snapper have your seafood guy or gal remove the skin.  It’s a bear to do yourself.  The other ingredient that requires special handling is the leek.  Leeks get really dirty in those stalky leaves.  You couldn’t possibly wash it all out.  Here’s what you do, per Rachel Ray:  chop the leeks; put them in a bowl with enough water that the leeks float and have a couple of inches of water below them; swish them around some; let the dirt settle to the bottom; use your hands to remove the leeks from the bowl without disturbing the dirt on the bottom of the bowl; rinse.  Everything else is pretty straightforward.

The nice thing is that all of your hard work is well rewarded.  This is super yummy stuff!  The bacon makes it a little smoky.  The thyme makes it a little earthy.  The vegetables make it a little crunchy.  The tomatoes make it a little comfort food-y.  The seafood makes it a lot yummy.  This is another dish where the quality of the ingredients really counts.  If you don’t get good quality fish the stew will taste old the first time around and not improve the leftovers.  I used my home canned tomatoes – you know how I feel abut those – but if you use commercially canned ones just be sure you get good ones.  I served the muddle with basmati rice, but I can see how stone ground grits would be good too.  If I’d included the potatoes I would have served it alone.

Tell you what folks, this makes a big pot of muddle.  I’d guess there are easily six servings here.  If you want to join me for leftovers left me know!

Good? So very good.
Easy? It takes too long to be called easy. We’ll go with intermediate.
Good for company? Definitely.
Special shopping? Get good quality fish.

Carolina Fish Muddle


1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into 1/2″ cubes, or thick-cut bacon, sliced into 1/2″ strips
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1 onions, finely chopped
1 leek (white and pale-green parts only), finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped
1 T dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 quart (or 28oz can) whole peeled tomatoes with juices
2 C shrimp stock
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Hot pepper sauce (such as Cholula or Tabasco; optional)
1 1/4 pound red snapper, cut into 1″–2″ pieces
1/2 pound catfish fillet, cut into 1″–2″ pieces
1/4 pound small to medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 C cooked rice


Heat bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until some of fat is rendered and bacon is just beginning to crisp, 10–15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Remove all except 2 T of bacon grease.

Add celery, carrots, onions, and leek to pot. Increase heat to medium and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, bay leaves and thyme; cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes. Add shrimp stock (or add 2 cups fish stock or clam juice) and cooked bacon. Bring to a simmer. Simmer about 15 minutes. Season stew with salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce, if desired.

Add fish and shrimp; bring to a gentle simmer. Cover; cook until fish and shrimp are just opaque in center, about 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked rice.


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