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.
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
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