Mangia! Feast of the Seven Fishes

Shrimp Ceviche SaladI’m undeniably a seafood fanatic, and I have my family to thank. Every holiday dinner, every celebratory occasion, and many weekend dinners are made special with baked clams as appetizers, pasta with cockles (called “vongole,” in Italian), or some preparation of shrimp, either fried, grilled, or in a scampi sauce. For me, the perfect meal is a dish of clams steamed with white wine or beer. Add a little bacon? Yes, please. Some garlic, parsley, or other aromatics? Go crazy. Have it however, whenever, and wherever. But there’s no day when a seafood feast is served that is as memorable for me as Christmas Eve.

These are the moments that define my childhood. I remember tagging along with my parents and grandparents as they shopped for their catch, eying the cod, the shrimp, the squid (or calamari), the clams, the scallops, and the lobster. No Christmas Eve in my Italian-American home would be complete without being served a plate of broiled lobster. With my family, whether you’re 8-years-old or 80, you’re going to be cracking claws and nibbling on a lobster tail. And if you’re my sister, you’re sucking on every leg, not letting any morsel or bit of juice go to waste. The table is mess, you’re a mess, despite the well-placed linen napkin. You’re making a mess when using the fine china, using your silver knife to scrape away the lobster meat from its shell, and your food never tasted better.

This is my family’s tradition, our version of the southern Italian Christmas Eve tradition that has come to be known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. In classic Italian culinary fashion, where there are few strict food rules, traditions adapt and vary from region to region, town to town, household to household, yet all share something in common that unites them all, connecting person to person, people to places, and families to their ancestors. It’s doesn’t matter that the large lobster I eat during Christmas Eve isn’t native to the Mediterranean waters off the shores of Italian region of Calabria where my family hails from, and where my cousins who still live there are eating scampi or langoustines (small lobsters that look like big shrimp). It doesn’t matter that my colleague’s family takes a more literal interpretation with the Feast of Seven Fishes by putting seven different types of fish on their holiday table, along with an assortment of other seafood dishes.

The origin of the Feast of the Seven Fishes varies as much as any oral tradition, it isn’t even celebrated in all regions in Italy, isn’t even referred to as the Feast of the Seven Fishes in different parts of the country, and it’s also a mystery why the number seven came to be associated with the tradition, although there are as many interpretations and theories as there are fish in the sea. But these details don’t matter as much as what the tradition has come to represent. The dishes themselves differ from home to home, and from year to year, and only carry as much significance as we personally associate with them. Yet the Feast of the Seven Fishes joins everyone who celebrates it in their own form and fashion, regardless of their cultural background, Italian-American or not. Just by putting even one seafood dish on your holiday table will make you a part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Start with one or more of these Fairway recipes, featuring the fresh catch (based on availability) from our stores’ seafood counters:

Or make a frutti di mare (or seafood) salad. Easy to make, just steam cleaned shrimp, mussels, squid, and scallops. Slice the squid into rings, the shrimp in half, and the scallops into thin slices. Then mix your favorite Fairway extra-virgin olive oil with some sea salt, pepper, chopped parsley, and fresh lemon juice. Beat the mixture until it develops a creamy consistency, pour it over the seafood, combine, and there you have it — seafood salad! If you like your seafood salad with a touch of more acid, add a drizzle of one of Fairway’s artisanal Catalan Cava vinegars that come in Vermouth, Chardonnay, Moscatell, and Cabernet. Their signature flavors like the honey-like delicateness of the Vermouth vinegar will amaze you. And don’t forget to absorb every last drop of juice on your plate with a piece of one of our Fairway baguettes.

For some appetizers that will pair swimmingly with your platters, try our cured fish from the L’Escala anchovies, straight from Spain’s Catalan coast, to the vintage La Quiberonnaise sardines.

Buon Natale!

TELL US: Are you serving seafood during the holidays? What’s on your menu?

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3 Responses to Mangia! Feast of the Seven Fishes

  1. elizabeth says:

    I don’t know if we’ll make it to the full 7 fishes, but I do know that scallops, shrimp, and oysters are on the menu for Christmas Eve.

  2. carole yudain says:

    Please- your recipes are wonderful but where is the cover recipe for shrimp ceviche salad?
    Looks like a delicious taste!

    • Christine Porretta says:

      Hi Carole, for Shrimp Ceviche, you can use the same recipe I provided for seafood salad at the bottom of my post, except you’ll only make the salad with the cooked shrimp. You can use the same lemon-parsley-oil sauce that I described. Enjoy!

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