Chef Kevin Mitchell, CEC, celebrates the origins and simplicity of a seafood stew for Black History Month
Chef Kevin Mitchell, CEC, has a passion for southern food. Growing up in New Jersey, Chef Mitchell says he picked up his love of food and cooking from his southern grandmother. “My mom was a single mother and cooked so me and my brothers could eat,” he says. “But, when I spent time with my grandmother from North Carolina, she loved cooking. I remember sitting in the kitchen and watching her fry whole fish and cook things from scratch.”
That love of food at an early age gradually led Chef Mitchell to pursue a culinary career, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and becoming a Nathalie Dupree Graduate Fellow of the Southern Foodways Alliance, with a focus on Southern Foodways. He worked in kitchens all over the country before accepting his current role in 2008 as a Chef-Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.
As a culinary historian and a South Carolina chef ambassador, Chef Mitchell hopes that more people will get excited about researching where food comes from, especially where it concerns African-Americans and their contributions to culinary history. “The most important thing is to have an open mind and understand that, no matter where we are or where we come from, we all have history and we’ve all contributed to the history of this country,” he says.
Chef Mitchell’s current passion project is a book that will be released in August, in collaboration with Dr. David Shields, an author and English professor at USC, called “Taste the State: South Carolina’s Signature Foods, Recipes and Their Stories.” In the book, readers will learn the history and recipes of dozens of southern foods, along with modernized recipes for today.
One of those recipes is Catfish and Crab Stew, a recipe (see below) that Chef Mitchell says he created around 2013 for a cooking demonstration that was meant to show how to make a traditional dish healthier. While Chef Mitchell says that pork fat is not necessarily bad, in moderation, for the demonstration, he used olive oil instead of pork fat to cook the dish.
In Chef Mitchell’s version of traditional southern catfish stew, he adds crab and replaces the potatoes with corn and okra. “I add okra as an ode to one of the most popular ingredients in the African diaspora,” he says. He keeps the tradition of a red stew by using tomatoes and tomato puree and keeps the stew spicy with the addition of cayenne. As with any recipe, Chef Mitchell says you can add or swap out ingredients to your own taste preference, as he did here.
In the early days, southerners would have eaten catfish stew with a cup of hot, strong coffee, according to Chef Mitchell. It was not unusual to have seafood for breakfast back then, or even now. “You may have catfish stew for dinner over rice, and then have the leftovers for breakfast over grits,” he says.
Whatever time of day you eat it, this traditional southern recipe is sure to be delicious. And, here’s another article previously published in National Culinary Review featuring Chef Mitchell and culinary history (https://wearechefs.com/the-definition-of-hospitality/).
Catfish and Crab Stew
Recipe courtesy of Chef Kevin Mitchell, CEC; photo by Rhonda Wilson
Yield: 8-10 Servings
- 6 ounces olive oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 cup diced green pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup sliced fresh okra
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 3 cups diced fresh tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
- 2 cups tomato puree
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds fresh catfish fillets, diced
- 1 pound lump crab meat, picked through to remove any shell
- 1 cup chopped green onion
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- Heat 2 ounces of the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper and sauté them until the onion begins to get tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté the vegetables for an additional 2 minutes. Add the okra and sauté for approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Add corn and sauté for 3 minutes more.
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the chicken stock, tomato, and tomato puree. Bring to a strong simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cayenne pepper. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cook for 10 minutes. Add catfish and cook for an additional 10 minutes until fish is cooked. Add the crab meat.
- Place the pot over medium heat and cook the stew for an additional 5 minutes to ensure catfish is fully cooked and crab is warmed through. Add the green onion and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add parsley. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Serve over steamed rice or grits, if desired.