We’re having Chef Daniel Boulud’s
tuna tartare, topped with caviar, at
our Feast Of The Seven Fishes. Here’s
the tuna tartare recipe.
While the Feast of the Seven Fishes may have roots in Southern Italy, today it is a purely an Italian-American tradition. The Christmas Eve dinner is celebrated with a feast of—you guessed it—seven different traditional fish dishes (although some ambitious families may go for eight, nine or more).
The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates back to medieval times, to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat or milk products on Fridays and specific holy days. Fish, typically fried in oil, was most often substituted.
Thus, traditional dishes for The Feast Of The Seven Fishes include baccalà (salted cod fish), calamari and fried fish and seafood (oysters, scallops, shrimp, smelts).
For a gourmet Feast Of The Seven Fishes, consider this seven-course dinner: (1) oyster shooters or oysters on the half shell, (2) seafood chowder, (3) marinated seafood salad (calamari, octopus, shrimp, green and black olives, onion) over greens, (4) angel hair pasta with lobster in a tomato cream sauce, (5) squid ink pasta with scallops and red caviar, (6) your favorite salmon dish, (7) your favorite shrimp or lobster dish.
Why seven dishes? No one knows with certainty. Of course, the number seven has many meanings in Western tradition, including the number of Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. We may have to wait for the next Dan Brown novel to uncover the mystery.
Consider creating your own seven fish dishes on Christmas Eve. You don’t have to adhere to Italian specialties or make a full dinner out of it. Try seven appetizers on a “mezze plate,”* such as calamari salad, cocktail shrimp, crab cakes, crab dip with crudités, tuna-olive tapenade, seafood paté and smoked salmon or gravlax. Make the Feast Of The Seven Fishes a holiday tradition in your home.
*Mezze, pronounced MEH-zee, are Middle Eastern appetizers served either before or with dinner, generally with pita. Several mezze are served at the same time, in what is called a mezze platter. Examples include baba ghannouj (eggplant dip), falafel, feta cheese, hummus, kalaj (baked halloumi cheese in pastry), moutabal (grilled eggplant), and sambousek, spicy carrots and tabouleh. Up to 50 varieties can appear on a mezze table—a Middle Eastern “antipasto.”