Christmas Eve means only one thing in my family … food! Like many Italian-American families, we celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is a way to honor the day, by creating seven different dishes with seven different types of fish. Today I’m creating my own traditions and Feast of the Seven Fishes has turned into more like 3 or 4 fishes … tops. I make a decision on what I’m going to make based on what looks the most fresh.
When I was younger my mom and my aunts would plan Christmas Eve dinner way in advance. My family placed their orders with their “guy.” Basically, we had a “guy” for everything. The “Lobster Guy” and the “Fish Guy” were visited first thing in the morning on the 24th, as they were always up early to start cooking. Having a “guy” meant that he was superior (in everyone’s opinion) and responsible for providing the BEST. Period. Today, I too, have a guy for everything … Just ask me.
There were scallops to be had, shrimp to be cleaned, clams shucked, fish to be filleted. My family had to cook, eat, and clean up and this HAD to happen before midnight mass! Have I mentioned that I’m an old fashioned Catholic girl?
Some my favorite dishes to make are whole Grilled Branzino (Mediterranean White Fish) or Sea Bass here in the states. This one is easy to make … have your fishmonger scale and clean the fish keeping it whole so you can just stuff the cavity with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon slices, sliced fennel, salt and pepper. Oil the outside of the fish all over and place on a screaming hot grill. Don’t move it until its ready to move or you’ll tear the skin. The skin is my favorite part because it’s crunchy and gives off the most flavor.
Sardines … are delicious. All you do is lightly salt them and add to a pot of oil, frying them until they look crunchy, this takes 3-5 minutes. Sardines are one of my favorites because they’re so light, easy to make and beyond flavorful.
To prepare octopus, set a large pot of vegetable oil in a pot and add: a whole garlic bulb cut in half, 2 jalapeños sliced in half lengthwise (seeds and all), a whole onion sliced in half, and a healthy pinch of salt. After you rinse off the octopus, you place it in a Dutch oven with the oil covering the whole thing.
I will admit that as much as I can handle almost anything, the simple act of rinsing the octopus gets me a bit squeamish, the tentacles wrap around your hands and arms and even though I know it’s not alive … my mind plays tricks on me … I suggest wearing dishwashing gloves and doing it efficiently and quickly, running it under very cold water.
Once that’s done, you place everything in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and that’s it! The octopus is super tender, the head and beak break off easily. I coat the tentacles with balsamic vinegar and place them on a hot grill, this gives everything a nice char. Then cut it up into 1″ cubes and get ready to enjoy a delicious and tender and often forgotten treat.
Another simple dish to make is clams and white wine sauce. You scrub the clams clean under cold water, removing any beard. Then add a bottle of white wine to a pot big enough to hold all the clams and broth you’re about to make. Flavor the wine w sliced garlic, lemon slices, chili flakes, chopped parsley, a nice knob of butter and let it simmer for about 15 minutes so that all the flavors meld together. Then add the clams and enough stock to almost cover the clams.
Cook for about 10-12 minutes until you see the clams opening up. That’s it! Add clams to your cooked spaghetti or linguini and get ready to start slurping … it’s almost impossible to not slurp (if you’re doing it right). And don’t forget the Italian bread.
Whatever you choose to make to celebrate this season, I know that the traditions you create in your kitchen will create lasting memories for generations to come! From my family to yours I wish you all a very happy, healthy and beautiful Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.