Zoe Adjonyoh’s Smoked Fish Stew

published Oct 28, 2021
Smoked Fish Stew Recipe

Versions of this dish are to be found across Ghana using locally sourced smoked fish particular to the region.

Serves4 to 6

Prep45 minutes to 50 minutes

Cook1 hour

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Gourds are found across many of Africa’s 54 countries, particularly in the lower East and West regions and in South Africa, but also in Ghana, where we use dried gourds for decoration and as vessels, like for serving palm wine. But butternut squash didn’t feature in my life until I left home for university. I was probably in my mid-20s before I regularly, obsessively cooked with it. 

My mother, an Irish immigrant, met my father, a Ghanian immigrant, in London in the ’70s, which wasn’t the heyday of butternut squash. Squash was fancy, foreign, and inaccessible to my working-class mother (bananas had only just got to Bantry Bay in Ireland’s West Cork in the early ’50s, she reports, and oranges and bananas were considered expensive luxuries) and so mum didn’t meet a squash until I introduced her to it. And despite the fact that Ghana now has more than 60 acres dedicated to squash cultivation and excellent agricultural systems to support its marketability and sustainability as a crop, my dad (never that keen on any vegetables, to be honest) would probably not choose squash over chicken or fish as a protein replacement. 

Whilst the U.K. doesn’t have quite the same obsessive rhapsody over pumpkins as our U.S. cousins, as fall deepens and Halloween (my birthday!) approaches so does the pumpkin-cooking frenzy — soups, stews, and casseroles and simply roasted. Since marrying an American and eavesdropping on Thanksgiving for the past five years, I have become quite adept at Ghana-fying much of my in-laws’ celebration dinner — suya-roasted pumpkin veloute is a hit alongside gari crumb on mac and cheese, and my kelewele replaces pumpkin spice wherever I can shake it, including sweet potatoes and butternut squash muffins.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Why am I taking you along on my personal squash journey? Because I wanted you to understand how butternut squash ended up in this smoked fish stew, versions of which you can find across Ghana using locally sourced smoked fish particular to the region. Smoked fish in Ghana is a necessity of the climate — fresh fish doesn’t stay fresh for long in the extreme summer heat. Therefore, it’s quite easy to find every kind of fish in smoked form, not just cured as you would expect in the West, for instance in the case of smoked mackerel, but rock-solid preserved! This means it can take a long time to cook through, which is probably why it’s so often found in soups and stews (like this one) where it can sit leisurely unwinding from its smoked coil.

Squash is not usual in this dish in a traditional sense, but I added it to soak up and disseminate some of the richness from the smoked fish and palm oil, and its inherent sweet meatiness balances the deep fall-shaped spice that’s going on here. It also stretches the reserves of a sometimes-difficult-to-find smoked fish, although today the expansive resource of the internet means we can find these ingredients with greater ease and convenience, so feel free to add more or less squash to your taste. Either way, it’s Ghana Be Tasty and please remember to buy Black when you cook West African.

Smoked Fish Stew Recipe

Versions of this dish are to be found across Ghana using locally sourced smoked fish particular to the region.

Prep time 45 minutes to 50 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


For the chalé sauce:

  • 1

    small white onion

  • 1

    (1-inch) piece ginger

  • 7 ounces

    whole canned tomatoes, or 3 Roma or plum tomatoes

  • 1

    jarred roasted red bell pepper

  • 1/2 to 1

    small red Scotch bonnet chile, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper for a milder heat

  • 2 cloves

    garlic (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon

    tomato paste

  • 1 teaspoon

    extra-hot Madras curry powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    extra-hot chili powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

For the stew:

  • 2

    smoked, dried fish, such as catfish and barracuda (about 1 1/4 pounds total)

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1 clove


  • 1

    (2-inch) piece ginger

  • 1

    Scotch bonnet pepper

  • 1

    medium yam (about 7 ounces)

  • 1 pound

    butternut squash

  • 1

    large carrot (about 5 ounces)

  • 1/2 cup

    sustainable red palm oil or peanut oil

  • 1/2 cup

    low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock or broth

  • 2 1/4 cups

    water, plus more for soaking the fish

  • 3 to 6

    whole kpakpo shito (cherry) chilies, or 1 habanero pepper (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Cooked rice, for serving


Make the chalé sauce:

  1. Prepare the following, adding each to a blender as you complete it: Peel and coarsely chop 1 small white onion. Peel 1 (1-inch) piece ginger (no need to peel if using organic ginger) and grate on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 tablespoon). Coarsely chop 7 ounces canned tomatoes or 3 Roma tomatoes, 1 roasted red bell pepper, 1/2 to 1 small red Scotch bonnet chile (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper for a milder heat), and 2 garlic cloves if desired.

  2. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 teaspoon extra-hot Madras curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon extra-hot chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Blend together until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Make the stew:

  1. Wash 2 smoked fish thoroughly and place in a large heatproof bowl. Add enough just-boiled water to completely cover and let sit while you prepare the aromatics and vegetables.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to the same small bowl as you complete it: Dice 1 medium yellow onion. Mince 1 garlic clove. Peel 1 (2-inch) piece ginger (no need to peel if using organic ginger) and grate on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 tablespoons).

  3. Pierce 1 Scotch bonnet pepper with the tip of a knife. Peel and cut 1 medium yam into 1-inch cubes. Rinse in cold water and set aside to drain. Peel and cut 1 pound butternut squash into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups). Peel and cut 1 large carrot crosswise into 1/2-inch thick rounds.

  4. Drain the fish. Place on a cutting board and remove and discard the head, fins, and bones. Coarsely chop the meat into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups).

  5. Heat 1/2 cup palm or peanut oil in a large saucepan or small pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion mixture and sauté, stirring often, starting to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the smoked fish and stir to combine. Add all of the chalé sauce and the Scotch bonnet and stir to combine. Cover and bring to the boil.

  6. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock or broth simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more. Add the yam, butternut squash, 2 1/4 cups water, 3 to 6 kpakpo shito chilies or 1 habanero, if using, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

  7. Add the carrot and simmer until the carrot is tender, about 10 minutes more. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Serve with cooked rice.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The chalé sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container, or it can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw before using.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Excerpted from ZOE’S GHANA KITCHEN by Zoe Adjonyoh. Copyright © 2021 by Zoe Adjonyoh. Photographs by Nassima Rothacker. Used with permission of Voracious, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY. All rights reserved.