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« Pan Roasted Smelts | Main | Herb-Roasted Potatoes »

Christmas Eve Menu - The Feast of the Seven Fishes

Tuna Livornese

 

Okay, I confess. I don't really know the Catholic traditions and holy days. My father was a lapsed Catholic and I was raised in the First Suburban Church of Whatever.

But that doesn't keep me from observing the ancient tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. While it's rooted in the teachings of the Church, for me it's just an excuse to go all out with my favorite fish dishes.


Christmas Eve

The Feast
of the
Seven Fishes


* * * * *

Baltimore Crab Cakes

Mini-Pissaladieres:
Olive & Cheese Tartlets


Oysters Gratin
with Brussels Sprouts

Lillian's Bacalla

Baby Calamari Stuffed
with Shrimp and Pancetta


Pan-Roasted Smelts

Mussels Julia

Seared Swordfish
Pasta all'Aglio Olio

Homemade Pistachio
Ice Cream

Tennessee Bourbon Cookies

* * * * *
Scroll down for photos & recipes.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian Christmas Eve tradition built around fish of all kinds and prepared in as many different ways as possible. Our friends Donna and Pasquale introduced it to us about ten years ago in their kitchen in Tribeca.

Christmas Eve in the ancient Catholic church was a vigilia di magro -- a sacred fast day, on which no meat could be consumed. This stricture has long since been lifted, although many devout Italians still fast on Christmas Eve. In Southern Italy and Sicily the tradition of a Christmas Eve feast organized around fish dishes developed over the centuries, and the tradition lives on in all regions of Italy.

The menu and the number of fish dishes varies from family to family and village to village, but it's usually seven, although the reason cited for the number varies. Donna's dad says it's a commemoration of the last seven of the Ten Commandments, which prescribe rules of human interaction -- as opposed to the first three, which address human relations with God. Others say it is to remind us of the seven deadly sins. In any case, seven fish dishes is a feast!

Two dishes that seem to show up in everyone's traditional Feast of Seven Fishes are smelts and baccalà in some form or another.

Baccalà is better known to a lot of New Englanders as salt cod -- a staple on the long sea voyages of whalers and traders in colonial days. Also important in Portuguese and Puerto Rican cuisine (it's bacalao in Spanish), salt cod is usually available in markets around the end of the year, though you might have to ask for it. If you have an Italian specialty market that carries salt cod it's usually worth the price premium to buy the higher grades they usually carry. (If you think you might want to try this, read the recipe now..it takes some planning ahead.)


Plan your own Feast of the Seven Fishes right here...
Click here to browse over fifty Stephencooks seafood dishes for your own Feast of the Seven Fishes. Click this box to browse 50 perfect seafood recipes.

Smelts are those silvery six-inch fish that show up in the fish markets every year around the onset of winter -- relatives of trout and salmon, they are wild-caught in the winter as they move into position off the coast for their early spring spawning run up the rivers.

Other candidates for the Feast of the Seven Fishes include Tuna Livornese (pictured above), Boiled ShrimpBaby Calamari Stuffed with ShrimpCod Roasted with Pancetta, Leeks, Mushrooms and TomatoesSteamed Lobster or Shrimp Risotto, Roasted Mackerel with Lemon and Thyme, Smoked Trout or Salmon, Baked Sea Bass or, for a less formal touch, try my Jambalaya Calzone or a Smoked Salmon Pizza.

Almost any fish dish you can imagine can turn up in a Feast of the Seven Fishes. Did I mention grilled halibut steaks with crab sauce? Steamed crabs? Lobster fra diavalo?

The meal is usually served one course at a time, with lots of time between courses, in the Italian tradition, during  which the cooks work on the next dish and the guests drink wine and talk...and talk!

So here's is our menu for this Christmas Eve. We hope you enjoy the Feast of the Seven Fishes, with these or whatever fish dishes you choose!

 

Betty's CrabcakesThese crab cakes are a great starter for any meal! And here in Maine, where we have great fresh crabmeat all year long, they cannot be beat.

 

Mini-Pissaladieres: Quick Tartlets with Olives and Cheese

Mini-Pissaladieres: Quick Tartlets with Olives and CheeseI always like to have one or two non-fish dishes on the menu, for a little counterpoint. This is one of my favorites.

 

Oysters, Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta Gratin

Oysters, Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta GratinI always have an oyster dish on the menu on Christmas Eve and this is one of the best.

 

Lillian's BacallaThis dish is a quintessential Italian dish, and for us it carries so many good memories of past Christmas celebrations.

 

Baby Calamari Stuffed with Shrimp and Pancetta
  

These little bites make a nice change of pace at this point in the feast...

 

Pan Roasted Smelts These little fishes are best served with a nice crusty Italian bread for mopping up the garlic-, lemon- and oregano-flavored sauce.

 

Mussels JuliaI don't need much of an excuse to serve mussels, so of course they show up on our table on Christmas Eve.

 

Seared Swordfish with Pasta all'Aglio OlioOf course there has to be a pasta dish in this meal, and with all the other things going on I like the simplicty of Pasta all'Aglio Olio with a seared chunk of swordfish...

And for dessert...

Homemade Pistachio Ice Cream with Sliced Strawberries

Pistachio Ice Cream

 

Tennessee Bourbon Cookies

We wish you a wonderful Feast, and a peaceful, happy Christmas!

 

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Comments

Somehow I put the comment to the wrong post.

So again, this is the most glorious feast ever!!! And whoever is invited is incredibly fortunate.

Thanks for sharing

What a feast for the soul. You guys make an incredible team. Too bad I'm just reading this now because I would have nominated this for best post in the blog awards. Amazing stuff. I'm printing out and bringing to my family Christmas.

A great post and superb photos as always - I even agree on a few of Beau's wine recommendations!

Fantastic!!!I can almost taste your dishes through my laptop, and the photos..., oh they are a work of art. Hugs!

Wow, that's quite a feast. I adore Italian food/feasts and so was delighted to find A Silver Spoon in Costco. It's a translation of the Italian cookbook that is the equivalent of Fanny Farmer or the Joy of Cooking!

Looks amazing.. cant wait to try them all! Just recently had smelt for the first time, fresh from Sues in Kittery,- tasty little guys!

Suprised I dont see any Maine Shrimp on the menu... they tasted real nice over the weekend, prepeared 5 different ways...

Enjoy your christmas, I look forward to seeing more of your stuff!

Wondered across your website and just thought I'd drop you a line. First off let me introduce myself. I am Robert Germano, author of the Christmas Holiday cookbook, 'The Eve of Seven Fishes - Christmas Cooking in the Peasant Tradition'.

My cookbook will entice your taste buds with simplistic, authentic Italian recipes from the Old Country.

To view the complete index of recipes in the book, click on the following link.

http://eveof7fishes.com/contents.htm

Seven fish represent the 7 sea's around the world, per Grandma's Mariette and Maria.

It is my understanding as a person of Italian heritage and raised catholic that the seven fish meal was that of Italian tradition - not Catholic - am I wrong?

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