The Feast of Seven Fishes

I love the traditional holiday recipes that we have been using for generations in the South. Turkey and dressing, especially with a really good gravy, cranberry sauce, and all the veggie sides, are wonders. But every once in a while, a change can be a good thing. What about a few seafood dishes for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Does it sound farfetched?

Well, ever heard of the Italian feast of the seven fishes? In Italian, it is Festa dei sette pesci and is a Christmas eve tradition amongst Italian Americans. It comes from the Roman Catholic tradition of avoiding meat on the eve of feast days. I like the idea a lot, and, if you like, it can also add a healthy element to your holiday table.

So, what would you serve for Christmas day? Why not a whole roasted fish? Yes, I know, Americans just don’t like the idea of head-on anything, but everywhere else in the world, whole roasted fish is a delicacy. Just like with beef, bone-in is always better. Stuff a flounder, or trout with herbs, drizzle with butter, and season well. Pop in into a hot oven and roast till the skin is crispy and the meat is done, but not overcooked, please!

Perhaps my all-time favorite is crab cakes. They are so simple to make, it is nothing more than crabmeat, a binder, like bread crumbs and eggs, a little seasoning, then browned in a pan of hot butter. The crab meat is so good, it really does not require a sauce, but if you want to top them with a little hollandaise sauce, or a spicy mayonnaise, that’s fine. Just don’t overpower the crab with too much or too strong a sauce.

Another favorite of mine is scallops. Yes, I know they are not local and come from cold waters far away, but when cooked right, they are just delicious. The hard part about cooking scallops is that you have to have a very hot pan. More often than not, an electric stove just won’t generate the heat needed to do the job right. Gas is the best way. They need to be seared over a very high flame so that a nice crust is formed, but they are not overcooked. Scollops with a little brown butter are at the top of my list.

Frying shrimp or oysters seems a bit mundane for a holiday, but fried soft shell crabs are always good. If you are a little adventurous, you can try ceviche, fish cooked in lime juice. It is a South American recipe, where the seafood is cured in citrus juice, then well seasoned. Absolutely delicious.

So, if you want to add a little something different to your holiday table, try a seafood course or two. My top choice? Crab cakes, hands down.


Written by Julian Brunt

Julian Brunt is a food and travel writer that has been writing about the food culture of the Deep South for over a decade. He is the eleventh generation of his family to live in the South, grew up in Europe, traveled extensively for the first fifteen years after graduating from the University of Maryland, University College, Heidelberg, Germany. Today, he's a contributor for multiple publications, including Our Mississippi Home. He's also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's television show, "To Hell and Back in 24 Hours."


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