Lowcountry Fish Stew

Celebrate the holiday season with a bountiful fish stew.

Mike Lata's Lowcountry Fish Stew
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards; Prop Styling and Floral Design: Sara York Grimshaw
Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 30 mins

Chef Mike Lata (owner and culinary force behind FIG and The Ordinary restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina) and his wife Jenni Ridall share the secret to their idyllic, alfresco Christmas eve dinner: Lots of Planning. "We don't just dream up these meals," Lata says. "We give a lot of thought to organizing, because who wants to be in the weeds at home?" The couple devotes plenty of time to engineering the perfect menu for the occasion. From this Lowcountry Fish Stew to Oven-Roasted Oysters with Mushrooms and Watercress, their smart, seasonal menu is designed with plenty of do-ahead components.

A version of this dish, a Lowcountry riff on French bouillabaisse, has been on the menu at FIG since 2003. If the broth is made in advance, this stew is quick to assemble. The broth starts with a medley of vegetables and alliums—red onion, fennel, celery, leeks, shallots, garlic, and bay leaves—which provide a solid base of flavor, augmented by shrimp shells and fish bones. Then come the finishing touches. Elegantly seasoned with anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod, and saffron threads, this Lowcountry Fish Stew feels truly special. With little neck clams, fish, mussels, and shrimp, this stew proves that more really is merrier. Lata says to simmer the fish until it's just done to preserve the delicate textures and flavors.



  • 2 pasteurized egg yolks, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • 1 - 2 large garlic cloves


  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish

  • 1 ½ cups chopped red onion (from 1 onion)

  • 1 cup chopped fennel (from 1 fennel bulb)

  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)

  • 1 cup chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (from 2 leeks)

  • 1 cup chopped shallots (from 3 shallots)

  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed

  • 2 fresh bay leaves

  • 3 ½ tablespoons tomato paste

  • 1 pound large (21-25 count) peeled, deveined raw white shrimp, shells reserved

  • 1 pound (1- to 1½-inch-thick) firm white fish fillet (such as flounder, grouper, snapper, or bass), cut into (2- x 1-inch) strips, fish bones reserved

  • 2 cups crisp unoaked white wine (such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)

  • 2 ounces anise-flavored liqueur (such as Pernod, optional)

  • teaspoon saffron threads (optional)

  • 2 (3- x 1-inch) orange peel strips (from 1 orange)

  • 2 medium carrots, sliced diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices

  • 2 cups (1-inch) cubed green cabbage (from 1 small cabbage)

  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 18 - 24 little neck clams (1 lb.), scrubbed  

  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded 

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving

  • Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish 

  • Cooked Carolina Gold Rice Middlins or white rice

  • Toasted or grilled sourdough bread


  1. Prepare the Aïoli: Combine egg yolks, vinegar, salt, and lemon juice in a medium bowl, and whisk vigorously until pale yellow and foamy. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until thick and emulsified. Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula. Using a Microplane grater, finely grate 1 garlic clove into Aïoli. Taste; add more garlic and salt, if desired. Cover; chill until ready to use.

  2. Prepare the Stew: Heat olive oil in a large heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven over medium. Add red onion, fennel, celery, leeks, shallots, garlic, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened but do not take on any color, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and cook, stirring often, until mixture darkens slightly, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp shells and fish bones; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Add wine and liqueur (if using), and bring to a boil over medium. Once it reaches a boil, add 6 cups water, saffron (if using), and orange peel. Return to a boil; reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl; discard solids. (At this point, the broth can be frozen. I highly recommend making this ahead. Feel free to double the batch and freeze it, as this is the majority of the work in the recipe.)

  3. Bring broth to a simmer in a 6-quart pot over medium. Add carrots, cabbage, salt, and little neck clams; simmer, covered, until clams start to open (some might not be completely open yet) and vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add fish, mussels, and shrimp. Cover; simmer gently over medium until just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, divide seafood and vegetables evenly among serving bowls. Remove pot from heat, and whisk in butter, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Season with additional salt as needed.

  4. Ladle broth over seafood and vegetables in bowls. Garnish with parsley and a few drizzles of olive oil. Serve with warm rice, toasted bread, and Aïoli.

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