Feast of the Seven Fishes

23 Dec

I can’t speak for the other members of my family, but Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. It is the one meal, the one gathering, the one event that I look forward to. Every day of my life.
And it is an event. We sit down to dinner together at around four o’clock in the afternoon usually; it’s rare that anybody gets up from the table before nine.
We are a tightly knit group, this family of ours. There is Aunt Anna and Aunt Rita, Cousins Josephine and Frank and Alec and Joanna and Joanie. Brother Joe is on hand, of course, and the missus and me.
You have heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes? It is a Christmas Eve tradition, thought to have its roots (like my family) in Southern Italy. The meatless meal consists of seven different seafood types, though I have never met anybody who is strict on this point. We certainly aren’t. I did a loose count of last year’s Feast and came up with 10 different species on the table.
I had been planning to post this greeting straight from the Christmas Eve dinner table, but an illness is looking like it will cause me to miss the trip back home this year. I have been trying to remember the last Christmas Eve that I did not spend with the family. I can’t. That’s good, I guess. But it makes not being there this year all the harder. And not just because of all the great chow I’m missing out on.
Speaking of great chow, here are some scenes from last year’s Christmas Eve festa. It’s the best I could manage under the circumstances.
Anna’s baked clams. I don’t know how, but they get better every year. (Which would mean that I am missing out on the best baked clams ever, no?)
All our meals have a pasta course, and on the Eve it’s Rita’s choice. (Last year she went with a marinara, but often it’s garlic and hazelnuts.)
Rita’s (and now Joanie’s) fried shrimp. I’m not a big shrimp eater, but these just kill me. I probably down 10 of them during dinner, and they’re huge. (There are usually two or three platters just like this one around.)
If there is a centerpiece dish on the Eve, this is it. Anna’s seafood salad, with lobster, calamari, scungilli, octopus and shrimp. (The sliced olives were a new addition last year.)
Baccala (salt cod), a must-have dish, and usually prepared two ways; baked here. (My favorite.)
And the baccala salad. (Also very good.)
Mussels steamed in wine, and (back by popular demand in ’09) stuffed calamari. (Broccoli is the only vegetable that is ever on the Christmas Eve dinner table, by the way, though none of us knows why.)
Stewed eel. (Yes, we all eat it.)
And baked lobster. (This has always seemed like overkill to me, but I do mange to find room for a taste.)
Merry Christmas everybody!

15 Responses to “Feast of the Seven Fishes”

  1. Jeannie December 24, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    Those were one great feast! I would love a taste of those shrimps and lobsters, they are my favourite seafood….Merry Christmas to you and your family MrMeatball, am sure you are going to enjoy yourselves immensely! Cheers!

  2. S. December 24, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    i like all of this very, very much.

  3. Proud Italian Cook December 24, 2010 at 4:18 am #

    OMGoodness you have to miss this? I hope it's nothing serious. I could easily step in for you, those clams are calling my name, so is the seafood salad, and stuffed calamari, etc… I would dream about this too all year.Hope all is well and that you have a very joyous Christmas

  4. Claudia December 26, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    I would have gone for you. Seriously. And I would have made room for the lobster and eaten the eels. I hope yuou are back in rip-roaring shape for the New year and feasting.

  5. scott December 30, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    I'm going to throw you a bone. Based on your moniker, I'm shocked you haven't made them yet. I make them and they're fabulous, polpette di gamberi. Shame on you for not making any seafood meatballs!

  6. Mister Meatball December 30, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    Scott: Okay, I am ashamed. Hope you're happy. Now go and make some sausage or something, would you!

  7. scott December 30, 2010 at 11:03 pm #


  8. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti January 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    It looks very similar to our Christmas Eve's dinner! I make baccala two ways — fried, and in a tomato/wine sauce with capers and black olives. I always have a calamari sauce over linguine,stuffed calamari, seafood salad, fried shrimp, stuffed lobster, Salmon for my Mom who likes her fish plain, and steamed mussels and clams.Can you ask Anna for her stuffed clams recipe? I'd love to have that!Hope you are feeling better!

  9. Mister Meatball January 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Pat: The baked clams recipe, via Aunt Rita, as Anna doesn't use a computer…Mix bread crumbs, minced garlic, chopped parsley, and grated cheese together (all to taste). Mix some strained clam juice and olive oil together then put a scant teaspoon onto each clam in shell. Place under broiler for 5-10 minutes. When the crumbs are nicely browned (personal preference) then it's time to take out and enjoy!! PS-we use the small (cherrystones?) clams. Just wanted the recipe to be accurate. Rita

  10. jillian January 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    don't tell Malcolm, but I am going to embrace the Italian and attempt this feast next Christmas Eve. thanks for the inspiration.

  11. Kate. December 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I did not see this last year, so thanks for the link! This looks amazing. And I want to come to your house (or go with you to your family's) for Christmas!

  12. Linda December 22, 2020 at 2:59 pm #

    Looks fantastic but I make lobster fra diavolo would love to know how she bakes them

  13. Bill Hope December 25, 2020 at 7:46 pm #

    Dear Meatball,
    All looks good, hope next yr will make up in part for having to miss this yr’s. We don’t usually get to 7 at one meal, but for festive dinners when we are cooking in Spain, always try to have dorada a la espalda, for ease of prep and it tastes fantastic. We get 1 gilthead per adult, have our fish guy remove the spine at the shop, splay the deboned fish skin-side-down, add a bit of oil with minced parsley & garlic and salt/pepper as desired, and bake briefly at about 350 F. Bake time usually short as fish is not that thick-bodied, but when it’s done, I like it as is and some like to give it a brief browning at the edges under broiler. Lemon wedges to serve with and you have a very easy fish dish. If you or the fish guy scale the fish well, you can also eat the skin, but that’s a matter of personal choice. If you had this at a banquet such as you describe, it probably wouldn’t even need as much per person.


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