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  • 5 whole(s) (1 1/4 pounds each) catfish or other mild fish, cleaned
  • 1 slice(s) (1/2-inch-thick) ham
  • 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 3 sprig(s) parsley
  • 1 sprig(s) marjoram
  • 2 sprig(s) tarragon
  • 3 sprig(s) chervil
  • 6 whole(s) black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1 cup(s) heavy cream
  • 2  egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoon(s) finely minced parsley

Beurre Manié:

  • 3 tablespoon(s) flour
  • 2 tablespoon(s) butter


  1. Coarsely chop 4 of the catfish. Place in a large saucepan with the ham, chopped onions, herbs, peppercorns, salt, and two quarts of water. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Pass through a food mill into a clean saucepan.
  2. Fillet the remaining catfish and cut the fillets into bite-sized pieces. Reserve.
  3. Make the beurre manié: Knead the butter and flour together until combined.
  4. Just prior to serving, return the fish broth to the stove and add the fish fillets. Bring just to the simmer and cook gently for one minute. Add the heavy cream and the beurre manié and simmer briefly. Turn the heat off under the soup.
  5. Meanwhile, break up the egg yolks in a separate bowl. Temper the yolks by adding slowly two cups of the soup to the yolks in the bowl, stirring the yolks constantly, and then returning the yolk mixture to the soup.
  6. Serve immediately, garnished with the minced parsley.

Thomas Jefferson’s cooking notebooks paint a picture of fine dining in Colonial America, which was a culinary mish-mash of English, Dutch, French, African, and Mexican heritages. Jefferson traveled extensively in France, and many of his recipes, like this creamy fish soup, reflect a French influence.

Recipe courtesy of Cathy Kaufman, chairperson of the Culinary Historians of New York.