As far back as I can remember, I have loved planning our Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. The ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. Today, this Italian-American tradition carries on in our (and many other) households. Born to an Italian father fresh off the boat from Trieste, and married into another with generations from the “Old Country” - meal planning and preparation of this seven-course seafood meal is taken very seriously as both to honor the Italian-American tradition and to celebrate all of us being together.
Growing up, calamari, baccalà (salt-cured cod that is soaked in a bathtub for days, blended and doused with EVO), lobster, sardines, and anchovies always graced the menu. Now, my chef brother-in-law raises the bar with his glorious Cioppino and famous Clams Casino.
The Menu - Seven Fishes
One and Two.
Taking cues from our friend Paul Greenberg, James Beard award winning author and sustainable seafood advocate, we decided this year to plan our menu as close to home with a nod to featuring ocean-friendly sustainable fish. "Blue mussels, farmed in the coastal waters of New England and Atlantic Canada came to mind"..., and of course, Martha’s Vineyard Oysters found in Katama Bay (try a tasting of Signature Oysters and Honeysuckle Oysters) and the Lagoon in Oak Bluffs (Cottage City Oyster). Both are "rich in omega-3s, and mussels and oysters filter algae and particulate matter, improving water clarity, limiting nitrogen loading and thereby slowing the spread of oxygen-deprived dead zones. Humans have depleted wild bivalves in many areas of the world, part of reversing this pattern is to farm shellfish and support shellfish farming by eating lots!"
Three and Four.
It’s crazy to think that more than 80 percent of our seafood comes from abroad, mostly Asia. And, some of the most popular farmed varietes such as shrimp has destroyed about a fifth of the world’s coastal mangrove forests, which serve as fish nurseries and storm buffers. So, staying away from the Shrimp Plate we added in a seasonal Bluefish Pate and a holiday version of scup tacos (i.e. with a light cream drizzle) for appetizers.
Five and Six and Seven.
Cioppino is a great main dish as its super satisfying, and it helps our menu get to our seven fish goal. Local bay scallops, calamari (i.e., squid) and of course lobster are this year's choices. And for the 'firm-flesh fish” we were going with Cod. For as simple as it is, Cod has the dubious distinction of being one of the only fish that naval battles have been fought over. Fished by the Vikings in the cold North Atlantic seas almost 3000 years ago, cod has been at the center of trade wars for centuries. Once so abundant, it saved millions from famine, but today cod is more scarce and popular as ever.
So, our we nixed the Cod and chose Atlantic Pollock. While considered a whitefish, it has an image problem. Its flavor is fantastic, but the appearance when the uncooked gray-pinkish color looks drab compared to the snow-white cod fillets we are used to seeing on seafood counters. Luckily, the Cioppino sauce will cover any evidence of us going out of the norm for the few ingredient stalwarts at the table :).
It was an exciting challenge to try to choose the most ocean-friendly choices for our treasured meal. To make it easy for you, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's comprehensive list of sustainable Seafood recommendations. Its a simple start to learning more about how our choices can make an impact - good or bad.
Happy Holiday's friends. Chi mangia bene, vive bene.
(Who eats well, lives well')
Feast of the Seven Fishes menu ideas:
Our go-to for feast ideas is always Mario Batali and Gianni.
Our Favorite Recipes:
Cioppino (in case you missed it above)
Cozze alla Triestina (steamed mussels) don't forget the crusty bread.
Blue Fish Pate