The reason for “seven fish” on Christmas Eve dates back to the Roman Catholic Italian-American tradition of abstaining from eating meat on Christmas Eve. I have written about the tradition of the “seven fishes” during the holiday season before as all are curious … why seven fish?
Some say the seven fish tradition is for the seven days it took to make the earth, others say it pays tribute to the last seven of the Ten Commandments, which relate to human interaction, and still others say it reminds us of the seven deadly sins. However, some in Italy do not have a tradition of seven fish but rather one of twelve fish (for the twelve apostles) or a thirteen fish tradition (for the twelve apostles plus one for Jesus).
As members of the fishing community, it’s nice to bring fish to our holiday table. Fish and fishing are such a big part of our lives, and it is one of the few natural foods we can catch, clean, prepare and eat much the way people have for centuries.
So, I like to eat and serve fish at Christmastime to honor the tradition of fish. Thanks to strong national fishing laws (under the Magnuson-Sevens Act) NOAA has successfully rebuilt over 45 fish stocks since 2009, we can still enjoy some of the fish we ate years ago around the holidays.
What types of fish do people eat? My family often started with antipasto with anchovies (no meat), snail salad, fried smelts, baccala (dry cod fish preserved in salt that is soaked for days to get the salt out), stuffed squid in a red sauce over linguini, baked white fish (haddock, cod or hake), baked stuffed shrimp and stuffed quahogs.
Here are a few of my favorite holiday seafood recipes: The first includes three different fish in one dish. It uses a white fish such as haddock, hate or cod fish which I prefer to use. Cod is now being caught by recreational anglers off Rhode Island. Scallops and shrimp are also part of the recipe. I call it Sandy’s Tasty Fish Casserole named after my good friend Sandy Ducharme who first served me the dish. Captain Dave’s Linguini with white quahog sauce
½ cup virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic thinly sliced (or 4 teaspoons chopped garlic from jar)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley (plus four to five good pinches)
½ cup dry white wine
½ lemon juice
3 dozen (scrubbed) littleneck quahogs (1½ to 2 inches)
meat of 6 to 8 large quahogs cut-up and cleaned (optional)
1 pound linguini pasta
Scrub littleneck quahog shells thoroughly and put them aside. Cook linguine while making recipe. Heat extra virgin olive oil in heavy pasta pan over medium heat, cook garlic in oil until golden brown (about one minute). Add and stir in 1/3 cup chopped parsley and all the unopened little necks, let simmer for two minutes. Add wine and let simmer for one minute. Add lemon and the meat of six to eight large quahogs cut up and cleaned (extra quahog meat is optional; if I catch them I put them in). Add red pepper to taste. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until all quahogs are open. Discard quahogs that are not open. Lower heat and put in one pound of cooked linguini and toss the entire mixture, put into large pasta bowl, then garnish with four pinches of fresh parsley. (This recipe is a variation of one I first saw in the May 2002 issue of Bon Appétit magazine by Lori Demori.) Sandy’s tasty fish casserole
This is NOT a milky, gooey casserole but a lightly baked dish of rice pilaf, cod, sea scallops and jumbo shrimp. I call it Sandy’s Tasty Fish Casserole as it is named after my good friend Sandy Ducharme who first served me the dish. Sandy said, “It is a great recipe for entertaining because you can make it ahead of time and then just bake it prior to dinner.”
Ingredients (serves eight)
2 pounds of white fish (cod, haddock or hake)
16 sea scallops, two per person
16 large shrimp (uncooked), two per person
½ cup lemon juice
½ stick butter or margarine
½ to ¾ cup lemon pepper panko bread crumbs (Sandy uses Progresso)
2 packages Far East rice pilaf
½ cup parmesan cheese
Cook rice pilaf as directed on package and set aside. Melt butter and mix with bread crumbs and set aside. Coat fish and shrimp (not scallops) with lemon juice, set on paper towel and pat dry. Place half of cooked rice pilaf on the bottom of a 9” x 12” baking dish. Place white fish on top of rice, sprinkle half of the butter/bread crumbs and cheese over white fish, place sea scallops and shrimp on top, place remaining rice on top of scallops and shrimp then sprinkle remanding butter/bread crumb mixture and top off with remaining parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Sandy said, “When the shrimp turns pink it’s done.” Capt. Dave’s clams casino
Captain Dave’s clams casino. Clean littlenecks, cut meat from shell, add additional quahog meat from large quahogs as needed, top with mixture of fresh chopped parsley, flavored bread crumbs, and Ritz cracker crumbs. Lay one to one and half inch piece of bacon on top. Bake at 350 degrees for twelve minutes, then broil on lower shelf for one to two minutes to brown bacon (make sure they don’t burn under broiler). Plate and serve with fresh lemon wedges and hot sauce. I brought these to my brother and sister-in-law’s home for Thanksgiving and they were a big hit. I had the chance to dig them myself Thanksgiving week which provided an added personal spin to the dish.
I’ve added a couple of squid dishes to my holiday recipes this year. One is a variation from a bay scallop recipe (I had a scallop license in Nantucket for 15 years) that includes sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, white wine and olive oil (email dmontifish//www.towndock.com/in-the-know/recipes/ for 28 different squid/calamari recipes. Dave’s Marketplace has Town Dock Squid. Where’s the bite?
The tautog fishing season ends December 31 and arguably we have had the best tautog season in years, and last year was a good year too. Cod fishing is getting into full swing and the bite has been pretty good. Party boats sailing for cod this time of year include the Frances Fleet at www.francesfleet.com, the Seven B’s at www.sevenbs.com, and the Island Current at www.islandcurrent.com. Freshwater fishing is in transition, anglers waiting for ice to engage ice fishing in local Massachusetts and Rhode Island ponds. However, anglers targeting bass in freshwater with shiners are doing pretty good.
Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association, the American Saltwater Guides Association and the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at email@example.com or visit www.noflukefishing.com and his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com.