This year, I'm hosting Christmas Eve. That's right - the Feast of Seven Fishes is finally all mine. Mmmwwhhhaaaa!
After thirty-three years of eating fried smelts and re-stuffed clam shells (please don't ask, it's too horrid to write about), I'm taking the shark by the tail and giving a gastronomic facelift to the holy night of pescatarian horrors.
A quick primer, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The Feast of the Seven Fishes to the Italian-American celebration. my The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas celebration. Today, it is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. It is unclear when the term "Feast of the Seven Fishes" was popularized.
The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence – in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products – on Wednesdays, Fridays and (in the Latin Church) Saturdays, as well as during Lent and on the eve of specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.
The meal may include seven, eight, or even nine specific fishes that are considered traditional. The most famous dish Southern Italians are known for is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà is attributed to the greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.
Ergo, I'm casting my net far and wide for refreshing seafood recipes. While sifting through the HFTK annals, I dug up this oldie but goodie, Tuscan Seafood Stew, from Chef Ryan DePersio, owner of Fascino in Montclair.
TUSCAN SEAFOOD STEW
1 cup mirepoix (small dice of carrots, onions, celery)
¼ cup of small dice of fennel
½ cup of diced potatoes
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
¼ cup of bail julienne
6 Little Neck Clams
6 P.E.I. Mussels
4 Black Tiger Shrimp
¼ cup Peekytoe Crab meat
1 cup white wine
1 cup brandy
½ cup heavy cream
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp cumin
Place all spices in a sauté pan and toast on medium heat for four minutes, constantly stirring. Set aside on a plate until cool, then grind.
Place oil and butter in a large pot on high heat. When butter begins to foam add mirepoix and fennel and sweat on medium heat for ten minutes. Add spice mixture, potatoes, garlic, clams, mussels, and shrimp.
Deglaze with wine and brandy, then cover. When clams begin to open add cream and cook on low heat for five minutes. Add crab meat and basil. Serve.