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Curried Catfish

Watch our historic foodways staff cook this recipe, then try it at home

Curries were very popular in the British diet during the period. Although inspired by the East Indies, this dish was invented in Great Britain. An ingredient in this recipe which makes it uniquely American is the catfish. Perhaps not holding the status of sturgeon or rockfish, catfish was showing acceptance by the second half of the 18th century.

18th Century

Take the white channel catfish, cut off their heads, skins and clean them, cut them in pieces four inches long, put as many as will be sufficient for a dish into a stew pan with a quart of water, two onions, and chopped parsley; let them stew gently till the water is reduced to half a pint, take the fish out and lay them on a dish, cover them to keep them hot, rub a spoonful of butter into one of flour, add a large tea-spoonful of curry powder, thicken the gravy with it, and pour it over the fish; be careful to have the gravy smooth.

— Randolph, Mary. “The Virginia Housewife.” pg.72.

21st Century


  • 1 pound of boneless catfish, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 3 or 4 cups of water or chicken broth
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp. of curry powder
  • 2 Tbsp. of butter or canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. of flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional condiments: diced scallions, diced carrots, raisins, diced hardboiled egg, crumbled bacon, whole onion rings, grated coconut, peanuts, or chutney.


  1. Sweat the onions and one handful of parsley in butter or oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. When the onions are translucent, add the catfish along with 3 to 4 cups of water or broth.
  3. Bring the liquid up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the fish until firm, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the fish from the liquid and put into a covered dish.
  4. Bring the remaining liquid up to a boil and reduce it to one cup.
  5. In a separate pan, make a roux with the butter and flour by melting the fat and adding the flour. Whisk until the mixture is golden, one to two minutes. Add the curry powder and combine with the mixture. Let cool.
  6. Add the curry and butter mixture to the hot liquid and bring it up to a boil. Stir until thickened.
  7. Take the gravy off the heat and stir in the cooked catfish. Cover and let the flavors combine for a few minutes.
  8. Serve over rice. Although not in the recipe, other condiments such as scallions and chutney work wonderfully with this dish.

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