Beach stories: North Carolina Fish Stew

Katy Perry, California Gurls

Another beautiful morning on San Diego’s Pacific Beach: soft, summer breeze, cloudless blue sky, gulls circling overhead (probably on the prowl for palm rats and kittens). Sundays bring out the surfers, the watchers, the families, and the yoga practitioners. Barefoot surfers walk by my concrete perch wearing wet suits, most black, carrying their boards, mostly white, and descend the steep dirt trail to the beach. 

Like the beach, surfing is egalitarian: to be known as a “surfer dude,” all you need is a ride to the beach, a board, the discipline to learn some serious skills, and stamina. Most of the wet-suited, board-carriers are young, white, men with lean, sun-tanned bodies. There are always a few silver-haired older gents and some naturally brown skins in the mix, but today I saw someone completely different: an older, grey-haired woman about my age. 

She walked solo (wearing a bright pink wet suit) with a careful stride, and easily carried her board (bright aqua blue) down the winding dirt path. She paddled out into the surf, ducking under each wave as it crashed, bobbing up on the other side, ready to take on the next one. Taking her place beyond the cresting waves alongside the young ones, she waited her turn, pulled through the water to merge, was up in a flash, and rode gracefully all the way to the beach.

While the surfers surfed, the watchers watched, and the yoga practitioners gathered. I could hear the thumping of rubber mats on the grass behind my bench as the Sunday morning devotees claimed their piece of turf. “Gotta get here early to claim a flat spot, otherwise you are downward dogging on every step.”


As if on cue, a lithe man in his forties greeted me pleasantly and asked (exactly as he did a year ago), “Mind if I hop up on your bench to lead my yoga class?” When I asked him why his pig wasn’t with him (unlike last year), he said, “Clubber fell victim to a few PB residents who ratted him out for lack of a permit. The city required that I place him in Penelope’s Purpose, a sanctuary up in Ramona, so now I pay pig support every month—don’t want to be a deadbeat dad.”

Steve, yoga instructor

Clubber, yoga pig

North Carolina fish stew

  • 1/2 lb. (6 strips) Thick-Cut Bacon
  • 2 Medium or 1 Large Yellow Onion, peeled, halved, and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
  • 6 cups Fish or chicken stock or water
  • 6 oz. Tomato Paste
  • 1 t Red Pepper Flake
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 1/2 lb Red Potatoes, sliced 1/4” thick
  • 1 1/2 lb Thick Cut white fish fillet – cod works well
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tsp Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s or Crystal
  • Salt & Pepper
  1. Heat a heavy soup pot over Medium heat.  Cut the bacon strips into 1” sections, and place in the pot to render the fat.  Allow the bacon to crisp. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat.
  2. Add the onion slices to the pan and cook about 8 minutes until they are translucent and tender and just beginning to brown.
  3. To the onions, add 1-2 teaspoons salt, 1 tsp black pepper, the red pepper flake and the 6 cups water.  Stir in the Tomato paste. Add the sliced potatoes, and turn heat up to Medium-High.  When the soup begins to simmer, wait 10 minutes.
  4. While simmering, cut the fish fillet into large (2”x2”x2”) chunks. They should be big and thick. After the 10 minutes has passed, add the fish to the soup. Then, cracking the eggs, add 1 at a time to the soup. Cover for 15 minutes.  This should be enough time to cook the fish and poach the eggs. 
  5. Test and adjust flavor by adding salt, pepper and hot sauce, as desired.
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