It’s Christmas time again and this month we are going to focus on the American-Italian celebration that is held on Christmas Eve named “Feast of the Seven Fishes” or “Festa dei sette pesci”. This wonderful feast has been celebrated for decades by millions of families in the US where dinner entails several different fish dishes along with other seafood. Living in the beautiful coastal area of south Florida with access to an abundance of fresh and delicious seafood, we hope to help you prepare the best “La Vigilia di Natale” feast possible for you and your loved ones.
The custom of the Feast of the Seven Fishes started as an American-Italian tradition based on the Catholic practice of fasting before Christmas and avoiding red meat. It’s not exactly clear when the Feast of the Seven Fishes actually began but it was most popularized along the time of the industrial revolution when there was a large influx of Italian immigrants moving into cities across the US. This tradition has been passed down to many generations and has become something many look forward to every year.
Not all families follow the rule of having only seven fish dishes; some offer upwards of thirteen different tasty options! While some people stick to very traditional recipes and choices of seafood like anchovies, whiting, lobster, sardines, cod, smelts, eel, squid, octopus and more, some families opt for more modern twists on old school dishes to spice things up.
We are going to share a favorite Feast of the Seven Fishes recipe and some fantastic food pairings to help you prepare the best Christmas Eve feast you’ve ever had.
Traditional dish: Baccalà Mantecato (dried cod pâté)
This is a very traditional northern Italian recipe hailing from the Venice region and makes for the perfect appetizer for your Christmas Eve dinner party. The ingredients are impressively simple and you’d find it hard to believe that a dried piece of cod could make something so exciting, but it’s true! Your taste buds will be buzzing once you take a bite of this whipped cod pâté spread onto crostini or fried pieces of polenta.
1/2lb dried salted cod
3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1tbsp chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
You will want to start this process 2 or 3 days prior to your dinner party. Submerge the dried cod into a pot and keep it covered. Make sure to change the water twice daily while it soaks. Once the fish has fully softened, replace the water one more time until fully submerged and add a bay leaf into pot. Cook for 30 minutes on low heat while removing foam from the top of the water.
Remove the cod from water and begin the process of deboning and removing skin. Google some tips on deboning cod to make this step of the process easier for beginners. Once the fish is ready, place into a bowl with three cloves of minced garlic (fresh, not roasted or jarred) and chopped parsley, and using a hand mixer or wooden spoon, begin to vigorously mix the fish and garlic adding salt, pepper and olive oil as needed to achieve a mousse-like, whipped texture.
Seafood & Pairings
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is all about seafood; so, naturally this dinner would not be complete without perfect wine and beer pairings. The following are common Feast of the Seven Fishes meals and the wines that best go along with each:
Clams casino- A classic dish made with clams on the half shell with breadcrumbs and bacon. Pairs best with Italian Prosecco or sparkling wine.
Spaghetti alla puttanesca- A sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil, anchovies, olives, garlic and capers pairs wonderfully with a southern Italian red wine or, surprisingly a run-of-the-mill zinfandel!
Baccalà- If you prepare the cod pâté above, be sure to pair it with a beautiful sparkling rosé.
Lobster- Whether you are baking or steaming, or if you’re stuffing or seasoning, lobster is best paired with a crisp chardonnay with oaky flavors.
Insalta di mare – A fantastic cooled salad made with a mix of seafood like mussels, clams, squid, and shrimp whisked in a lemony olive oil and parsley dressing pairs best with a dry, unoaked Italian white wine.
Fried calamari- Fried calamari rings are always a hit, especially around the holidays and when served with marinara, they’re best paired with a nice cold lager! Yes, beer!
Whiting- This kind of white fish can stand up to a bold red wine, especially when paired with a tomato based sauce. No matter how you prepare this fish, aim for a solid pinot noir.
Come in for our fantastic selection of fresh sea food to make your Feast of the Seven Fishes an unforgettable event. Peruse our wines, beers and liqueurs that will go perfectly with any dish you choose to prepare. We wish all of our customers and friends a happy holiday season!