Posted on

Consider ‘Feast of 7 Fishes’ for holidays

Consider ‘Feast of 7 Fishes’ for holidays
Consider ‘Feast of 7 Fishes’ for holidays
Suetta Tingler

Traditions touch us. They connect us. They expand us. They vary from families, cultures, religions, countries and individuals. Traditions have been built on the memories of our elders from generation to generation. “Without traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof” (quote from “Fiddler on the Roof” musical). Christmas is a favored time to celebrate such family ties.

Common Christmas Eve traditions might include baking cookies, reading a Christmas classic, a neighborhood stroll to sing carols, breaking out the ugly sweaters, making reindeer food, watching a Christmas movie, hanging stockings, opening gifts, attending church services or enjoying a special family meal.

The French enjoy the tradition of baking Buche de Noel, a special holiday dessert resembling a Yule log, around which storytelling takes place. Hiding a pickle ornament on the Christmas tree is a popular German tradition. The first one who finds the pickle on Christmas morning gets a special treat or opens the first present. Some of my Jewish friends have nurtured the tradition of gathering with friends on Christmas Day to eat Chinese when most other restaurants are closed.

Celebrate like an Italian-American on Christmas Eve by feasting on a seven-course meal of seafood. We well know food takes center stage when it comes to celebrating most holiday traditions. The Feast of the Seven Fishes dates back to the early 1900s. It was first celebrated by homesick immigrants who had arrived in the United States from the Naples and Sicily areas of Italy. The sea and its fish became the symbolic connection linking their home country to their new life in the States, thus came the tradition to celebrate Christmas Eve by feasting on food from the sea. It is speculated that the number seven came to be as it’s a dominant theme in the Bible, the seven hills of Rome, number of sacraments, days of creation and more.

Perhaps, you have taken pleasure in attending a holiday Madrigal dinner that showcases traditional old English food and song. The Feast of the Seven Fishes would be just another cultural dining experience to experience. No Italian “roots” are required nor does one need to be religious to enjoy the tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve.

Should you decide to gather family and friends or ever be invited to a Feast of the Seven Fishes, the following will provide insight on what to possibly expect.

My own son has come to revel in the Italian tradition when his Chicago Italian in-laws host the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve in their home.

There are no set rules as to what kind of seafood is to be served, but, of course, no meat. Dishes prepared might include clams, mussels, scallops, tuna, calamari, shrimp, anchovies, salmon, tilapia, lobster, cod, halibut, flounder, tilapia, oysters, crab, even sardines.

The “feast” can be as simple as a potluck with those attending “pitching in” to share a dish or a fancier sit-down seven-course holiday meal.

When serving potluck style, general sides of baked Parmesan potato wedges, cannelloni beans and sautéed spinach go well.

If you want to go the seven-course meal plan, the following is a suggested seven-course line up with food possibilities. Your budget and time to prepare will determine the extent of the menu.

•Appetizer: clams casino, seafood dips, mini-fish tacos, tuna spread, pizza with anchovies, shrimp cocktail, fried calamari, baked fish sticks, Oyster Rockefeller or smoked salmon.

•Tossed green salad

•Hearty seafood dish: grilled salmon, oven-baked fish, shrimp scampi, Coquilles St. Jacque’s scallops, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, salmon patties, snow crab or fried oysters.

•Serving (small) of pasta: toss spaghetti in tomato sauce or in an olive oil-garlic dressing, cheese ravioli, eggplant parm or Fettuccini Alfredo.

•Seafood stew, soup or chowder: New England or Manhattan clam chowder, shrimp bisque, oyster stew or a mixed seafood soup.

•Two-bite size taste of lemon or lime sorbet to cleanse the palate.

•Dessert: assorted cookies, cannoli, biscotti or a slice of panettone bread.

Add a side of holiday music during the meal and one has the perfect Feast of the Seven Fishes whether in Italy or at home in Indiana to celebrate Christmas Eve. The human soul can always use a new culinary experience to keep life interesting.

The seafood recipes that follow will become favorites no matter what the season or the reason you decide to serve them.

Here’s a marvelous recipe for the Yule season.


(“When Dinner Bells
Ring,” Talladega Ala.,
Junior League)

1 (16-ounce) can salmon

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons onions, grated

1 teaspoon horseradish

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

3 tablespoons parsley, snipped

Drain and flake salmon, removing skin and bones. Combine with next six ingredients; mix thoroughly. Chill several hours. Combine pecans and parsley. Shape salmon mixture into 8-x2-inch log and roll in nut mixture. Chill well. Serve with crackers.


(“The Lady & Sons, Too”)

1-1/2 pounds flounder fillets

Salt and pepper

3 ounces sherry

2 sticks melted butter

2 cups breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay fish fillets in a buttered 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sherry over the fish, then pour on half of the butter. Cover fish with breadcrumbs and pour the remaining butter over the crumbs. Bake 15 minutes. Serves 3 to 4. Scallops make a good substitute for the flounder.


(“Taste of Home”)

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/2 pound scallop

1 pound haddock or cod fillets, cut into six pieces

1-1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the flour and pepper until smooth. Gradually add broth and milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese; set aside. Place scallops in another saucepan; cover with water. Simmer, uncovered for 4 to 5 minutes or until firm and opaque. Meanwhile, place fillets in a shallow 2-quart microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on high for 2 to 4 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Drain scallops, arrange fish and scallops in a greased 11x7x2-inch baking dish. Sauté mushrooms in remaining butter until tender; stir into cheese sauce. Spoon over seafood. Sprinkle with mozzarella, cheddar and rest of Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted. Yield: 6 servings.


4 medium baking potatoes

1/2 cup light cream

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, grate

1/4 cup grated onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 (6-1/2-ounce) can crab meat

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Clean and bake the potatoes until done. Cut lengthwise, scoop out most of potato and place in mixing bowl. Add cream, butter, cheese, onion, salt and pepper; mix until blended. Stir in crab meat. Fill potato skins with mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Reheat in very hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes 8 servings.


2 cans cream potato soup

1 can cream celery soup

2 soup cans milk

2 (8-ounce) cans clams, minced and drained

1/2 small onion, diced

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and heat. Quick and easy and goes great with sandwiches.


1/2 cup flour

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup beer

1 egg white, stiffly beaten

Sift flour and salt into bowl. Stir in butter and beaten egg. Add beer gradually, stirring only until mixture is smooth. Let batter stand in warm place for one hour then fold in beaten egg white. Dip a few shrimps at a time in the batter and fry in deep hot oil until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve with mayonnaise seasoned with capers. Enough batter for 1 pound of shrimp.

The fondest memories are made gathered around the holiday table.

Merry Christmas to all.