The Book Stall
Not Afraid of Flavor

Striped Bass with Oyster Stew

excerpted from
Not Afraid of Flavor
by Ben Barker and Karen Barker
University of North Carolina Press, 2000. 

serves 6

At one time, striped bass flourished in the Pamlico Sound on North Carolina's coast. Overfishing and pollution seriously diminished the bass population, however, resulting in severe restrictions on their commercial harvest. Through better fisheries management, there has been a resurgence in the bass population on the East Coast, and we are now regularly able to offer this delicious fish at the restaurant.

This preparation accentuates the terrific crispness that can be achieved by searing the skin side first. In the fall, the fish are particularly fatty from a summer of feeding, and this method protects the flesh from overcooking and drying out.

Serve the bass with the first oysters of autumn and accompany with tomato gumbo and Beanie's cornbread.

ingredients for the bass

    6 wild striped bass or rockfish filets (6 ounces each), skin on and scaled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
peanut oil for sauteing

ingredients for the stew

1 pint shucked oysters
2 ounces country ham, sliced thin and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup onion, cut into small dice
1/4 cup red bell pepper, seeded and cut into small dice
1/4 cup celery, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups roasted chicken stock
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped sage
salt, black pepper, and lemon juice to taste
1/2 cup scallions, sliced crosswise (use both white and green parts)

preparation for the stew

1. Strain the oysters and reserve the oyster liquor; refrigerate the oysters until ready to use for final assembly. In a medium saucepan, cook the ham in the peanut oil until lightly caramelized. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and celery and cook until caramelized. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf; cook 1 minute.

2. Add the bourbon, lemon juice, wine, and reserved oyster liquor. Cook until greatly reduced and nearly syrupy, stirring frequently. Add the roasted chicken stock and simmer over medium heat, skimming as necessary, until reduced by half. Cool and reserve until preparing the bass.


1. Remove the bass from refrigeration and dry thoroughly with paper towels. With a sharp knife, score an X in the
skin side to prevent it from curling when the fish is cooking. Season the flesh side with salt and pepper; rub the
skin side with some of the softened butter.
2. If serving with tomato gumbo, heat the gumbo and stir in the cooked rice as indicated in the last step of the
recipe. Keep warm. Return the stew to low heat and add the heavy cream; bring to a slow simmer.
3. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add a film of peanut oil, then carefully lay the
filets in the pan, skin side down. Reduce the heat to medium and press firmly on the filets with the back of a
metal spatula to flatten slightly and aid in the searing; cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the
filets. When the edges of the filets begin to show doneness, turn carefully and cook 1 minute longer. Remove the
filets and keep warm.
4. Raise the heat on the stew to medium-high, stir in the oysters and butter, and cook just until the oysters are
plumped and beginning to curl. Remove from the heat, stir in the sage, and season with salt, black pepper, and
lemon juice to taste.
5. Warm 6 wide, shallow bowls. If serving with tomato gumbo, spoon 3/4 cup of gumbo in the center of each bowl.
Place a filet in each bowl, on top of the gumbo, if used. Spoon the stew around the filets, dividing the oysters
equally between the bowls. Sprinkle liberally with scallions and serve immediately.

Back to the Book Stall

Recipes from 
Magnolia Grill


  • Caramelized Vidalia Onion and Bacon Crostata
  • Barbecued Smoked Salmon with Piccalilli and Buttermilk Herb Crackers
  • Spicy Green Tomato Soup with Crab & Country Ham 
  • Spicy Grilled Shrimp with Grits Cake, Country Ham, and Redeye Vinaigrette
  • Grilled Beef Tenderloin in a Cabernet Sauce with Roquefort and Summer Vegetable Chopped Salad
  • Striped Bass with Oyster Stew
  • Slow-Cooked Southern Greens
  • Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce
  • Tomato Concasse
Also by Ben Barker:
Taste of the Triangle 

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