Now that the kids in my family have all grown up, Christmas Eve means staying up late without parents, watching our favorite Christmas movies, drinking eggnog, and wrapping presents. It also means that my mom makes a spread of crab legs, shrimp, a whitefish and lox bagel tray, and my grandmother’s clam dip. Maybe some scallops. And maybe some crab cakes.
I asked my mom why she sets out these particular foods and found out that it’s based on the Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. My mother’s family is mostly German, not Italian, but she’s eager to incorporate other culture’s food into our meals. My family loves traditional Italian food, Jewish food, Asian food… pretty much all the food.
I decided to do some research about the Feast of the Seven Fishes. In Italy, Roman Catholics would abstain from eating meat and dairy on the eve of important holy days, like Easter and Christmas, and they called these days La Vigilia, the vigil. On Christmas Day, Italians would eat meat, but on Christmas Eve, they’d eat only seafood. Some people eat as many as thirteen different kinds of fish, but some think that this meal became widely known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes because of the proliferation of this meal in restaurants.
The most popular dish during the Feast is called baccalà, a salted cod fish. During my research, I came across this recipe in Edible Boston from Chef Michael Serpa at the Neptune Oyster. Edible Boston, a great quarterly magazine about eating seasonal and local, has an article this month about the Feast with a recipe for baccalà. If you feel like making a new tradition, try this recipe for Whipped Baccalà. Otherwise, just pop over to one of these downtown Italian restaurants for their take on the Feast of the Seven Fishes, using locally sourced fish.
The Blue Room, in Cambridge, MA
Enzo, in Newburyport, MA
Grotto, in Beacon Hill, MA
Neptune Oyster, in North End, MA
Legal Seafood Harborside, in Downtown Crossing, MA
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