For a holiday so widely celebrated, the traditions surrounding Christmas are as unique as the ornaments that decorate your tree. From decor, songs, stories and gifts, Christmas looks a little bit different in every home across the world, but of course, here at The Culinary Institute of America, we’re especially interested in what’s on the table.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American tradition to ring in Christmas Eve, when Roman Catholics celebrate the midnight birth of Jesus, known in Italian as “La Viglia.” Fish is a traditional ingredient in the Christmas Eve dinner because custom calls for the eschewing of red meat leading up to the holiday.
Though today the feast is commonly referred to as the “seven fishes,” the origin of that number is unclear, and in fact, many Italian and American homes may serve upwards of 10 dishes to celebrate the feast. Recipes vary from region to region, but common ingredients can include salted cod, calamari, shellfish, and shrimp, which may be stewed, fried, sauteed, or even served raw. Of course, you’re likely to find a pasta dish in the mix.
This can lead to a long day in the kitchen, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. If you want to celebrate Christmas Eve the Italian way, try this quick and easy Seven Fishes Sauce recipe.
This simple sauce is a traditional mix of aromatic ingredients, white wine, and fish broth that will lightly coat the fish(es) and pasta. For our main ingredients, we’ve chosen the seafood heavy hitters: crab, shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, scallops, and white fish. You can serve the shellfish in their shells for a dramatic presentation, or serve them shucked for a more user-friendly experience.
Depending on where you live, your fish markets may be buzzing in anticipation of the holiday, but don’t be tempted to secure your catch too early. Your ingredients should be as fresh as possible, kept cold and over ice, if your refrigerator is especially crowded. Make sure you give your clams and mussels some breathing room if they came packed in plastic.
While we’ve added it to the Christmas Eve menu, you can use this recipe as a base for weeknight dinners all year long. Add Thai-style aromatics to the broth, like ginger and lemon grass, and a squeeze of lime juice for a Tom Yum-style broth. Or, during the summer, add chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and some hot chilis for a Latin flair.
We like serving this sauce over pasta (because everything is better with pasta), but you will also love it over creamy polenta, roasted vegetables or potatoes, or steamed rice. You can even serve it on its own, alongside some crusty bread for dipping.
Depending on how you serve it, this can be a decadent first course or satisfying entr√©e, but we think however you fill your table, your guests will be lucky to share a buon Natale with you and your loved ones.
SEVEN FISH SAUCE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 anchovy fillets (optional)
2/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups clam broth
2 cups fish stock
12 shrimp (21/25 count), heads and tails on, if desired
1/4 pound of squid, tubes and tentacles, tubes sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 1/2 pound small clams
1 lb mussels, debearded and scrubbed
1/2 pound bay scallops
1 pound king crab leg, cracked into 6 portions (or 1/4 pound lump crab meat)
1/4 pound white flesh fish, such as haddock, cod, or halibut
1/2 cup diced Roma tomatoes
1 lb linguine, cooked, for serving
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Sliced pickled peppers, for garnish (optional)
Heat oil in a sauce pot over medium heat. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and anchovies, if using. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until it reduces by about half, about 5 minutes.
Add clam broth and fish stock and bring to a light simmer.
Add the shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, and scallops and slowly poach until the fishes become firm and the mussels open, about 5 minutes.
Add the crab, white fish, and tomatoes and cook gently, lowering the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until firm, about 3 minutes. Take care not to overcook the fish, or it will flake apart when served.
Remove from the heat and ladle into serving dishes over the pasta. Garnish with parsley and peppers, if using, and drizzle with olive oil before serving.