Feast of the Seven Fishes

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An Italian-American tradition for Christmas Eve, the Feast of the Seven Fishes features seven courses each with a different seafood.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Ever heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes? Hank explains:

Growing up in New Jersey among so many Italians, I thought every Italian family celebrated Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a tidal wave of seafood dishes each featuring a different fish or shellfish.

But as I grew up and met more Italians from other parts of the Old Country, I learned that the Feast is a very Southern Italian tradition. Regional or no, I love the idea of feasting on the ocean’s bounty as a warm up to the heavy roasts of Christmas Day.

New England Cioppino

Every family has its own menu, but there are a few dishes that almost always appear: Smoked eel was a big one when I lived on Long Island, as was stewed or fried baccala, salt cod.

Calamari or octopus was a constant, and crab or lobster was common as well. Some families served huge piles of fried smelt, others pasta with anchovies. West Coast Italians served up cioppino, a seafood stew that can often have seven fishes in one bowl.

Why seven? No one really knows. Some say it is for the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, others say it symbolizes the church’s Seven Virtues: faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice.

Feast of Seven Fishes Ideas from Simply Recipes


Baked Stuffed Clam

Calamari Stewed with Tomatoes


Salt Cod Stew

Grilled Branzino with Rosemary Vinaigrette

Grilled Oysters

Pasta with Tuna and Capers

Shrimp Risotto

Boiled Lobster

Feast of Seven Fishes Ideas from Other Food Blogs

A Feast of the Seven Fishes Menu – from Menu in Progress

Crispy Fried Smelts – from Stephen Cooks

Linguini ai Frutti di Mare – from Bell’Alimento

Swordfish Baked in Tomato Sauce – from Well Fed

Sicilian Spaghetti with Anchovies – from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

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Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

More from Hank


No ImageFeast of the Seven Fishes

  1. Paula - bell'alimento

    Feast of the Seven Fishes is one of my favorite meals. It’s a seafood lovers dream meal. The lead fish foto is phenomenal!Thanks so much for including my link. Happy New Year xoxo

  2. hanashi

    A culinary holiday tradition my family and I can FULLY participate in!!! THANK YOU for sharing this.
    I was reared pescatarian (meaning the only meat I eat is fish/seafood; no fowl, red meat, pork, game, etc), and have grown accustomed to bringing my own non-traditional food, ‘making do or go hungry’ at holiday gatherings.

    I’m definitely going adopt this tradition now, THANK YOU!!!

  3. Judi

    My husband’s roots are staunch midwestern Presbyterian, but his family has always had oyster stew and shrimp on Christmas Eve. I never connected it with any other tradition, just thought it was an interesting (and delicious). Thanks for educating me about a great way to celebrate.

  4. Nancy G

    I’m Italiano and also hail from NJ and love to carry on the tradition. It isn’t Christmas Eve without the Feast of the Seven Fishes! This year I’m trying a new dish… Whiting Salad; prepared much like Bacala salad (cooked, cooled, dressed). Buon Natale.

  5. ciaochowlinda

    This meal has always been part of our tradition too and this year is no different. I love your wonderful selections and recipes.

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