Seven courses mean smaller portions, like this taste of grilled octopus. Photo courtesy Scrapetta | Beverly Hills.
You’ve still got plenty of time to plan a Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. Known as Esta dei Sette Pesci in Italy, the tradition was brought to the U.S. by Italian immigrants.
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.
Other traditional dishes included baccalà (salted cod fish), calamari and seafood (oysters, scallops, shrimp, smelts).
The tradition is believed to have started in southern Italy, in areas like Naples and Sicily. It is not a tradition in northern Italy.
Italian Catholics would receive Holy Communion during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In the spirit of the holiday, there was abstention from meat prior to receiving communion.
The seven fishes may have represented the seven days of the week, but some families serve 13 varieties of fish, representing Jesus and the 12 apostles.
You don’t have to be a follower of the faith to participate in the feast. Adapt the tradition to your own celebration.
WHAT SHOULD YOU SERVE?
Anything goes. Italy has a wealth of coastline, so options were plentiful.
You don’t have to cook it all: Assemble a group of people to bring their favorite fish and seafood dishes (a curated potluck).
If you want to feast but don’t want to cook, check with local restaurants. For example, Chef Tony DiSalvo of the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, California is presenting this tempting Feast of Seven Fishes menu at his restaurant, Cast:
Course 1: Baby Kale Caesar, White Anchovies, Garlic Croutons, Shaved Parmesan