Feast of the Seven Fishes

The Christmas Table

Christine’s parents are in town and for Christmas Eve, we decided to do a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner.

My mother-in-law Ann is a fantastic cook who has a wide range of italian delicacies mastered. Christine and Ann put together a rough menu. Ann and I then obtained most of the fishes from the farmer’s market, along with a number of necessary accoutrements.

Click on through for the full menu, in order, with pictures and descriptions.

Rice Balls

The meal was not limited to fish. Christine desperately wanted some italian fried rice balls and her wish was met.

I started by cooking 3 cups of rice. Ann then put together a concoction of tomato sauce, peas, beef simmered in garlics/onions, and a bit of egg.

The rice balls were rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried for 3 minutes. Each ball is about 1.5″ in diameter and thoroughly delicious with a crispy outside and rich creamy rice/meat center.

1 of 7: Shrimp

For the seven fishes, we started off with cold shrimp and cocktail sauce.

Ben, Abbie, and Nate Holt joined us and they brought some of Abbie’s magical BBQ sauce, this time made with Apricots. Turns out that it is absolutely delicious on shrimp (and rice balls, too!).

2 of 7: Pan Seared Herbed Scallops

For the second course, I pan seared scallops in butter and herbs.

I basically followed this butterfish recipe, adding powdered ginger and dried orange peel.

Scallops only need to be seared for 2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on thickness and size.

For an added bit of flavor, I grated some parmesan cheese over the top.

3 & 4 of 7: Clams with Mussels following (not pictured)

Next was linguini in clam sauce. Mama Ann put together an absolutely amazing herb sauce made with clam broth, garlic, parsley and other herbs/spices.

After cooking the linguini, the sauce was poured over the top and then whole clams were added.

Simple and delicious.

4 of 7: Mussels Steamed in Tomatoes

Following that was a big bowl of mussels steamed with tomatoes and garlic.

I failed to grab a photo of the mussels, but Papa Joe did. Not bad for a dude that refuses to eat seafood! (Thanks!)

Tender and yummy.

The trick with mussels is to eat the first one. Then use the shell as a pair of tongs to pull out the remaining mussels and to clean up any remaining goodies at the bottom of your bowl!

That took care of first four seafood dishes.

For a bit of inter-mezzo and to give me a few minutes to prep for the next 3 courses, Christine served a touch of raspberry sorbet.

5 of 7: Fried Sole

For the fifth seafood course, I picked up some Patrole Sole to make fried fish.

I modeled my batter after Luiza’s Beer Batter for Fish. I find it useful to find a recipe that sounds good and then make up my own, following similar proportions

Since I didn’t have beer, I used soda water for the bubbles and added a bit of aged rum (8 year old Bacardi). I also threw in a bit of ginger powder.

The fish was thoroughly coated in the resulting goop and was deep friend for 3.5 minutes per batch.

The batter was perfect with enough flavor to be interesting without overwhelming the fish. It also didn’t absorb any grease to speak of, yielding a surprisingly light course for something deep fried.

6 of 7: Salmon

Prior to frying the fish, I tossed some butter into a couple of cast iron pans, brought them up to temperature, and then laid in two beautiful hunks of salmon that were from a batch of wild pacific salmon I had filleted a while ago.

I then added some orange juice and red wine to the pan, covered the filets with a mix of parsley and dill, then covered the pans for 12 minutes.

The end result was not quite as tender as I would have preferred, largely due to not being sealed properly in the freezer. Now that I have a vacuum sealer, I will be fabricating lots of more meat and fish as the airless sealed bags will preserve the quality much better upon deep freezing.

In any case, while I knew the fish could have been better, there were no complaints and it really was quite delicious.

7 of 7: Crab

For the final course, we had dungeness crab. Normally, I would have cooked live crab. It simply didn’t work out because I didn’t want to store live crab for a couple of days between farmer’s market and Christmas Eve.

The key with crab is to cook it as soon as possible. When it is pulled from the depths, the crab immediately starts effectively digesting itself. Even though it is possible to keep crab alive for up to 7 days in a salt water barrel, the quality degrades rapidly.

Likewise, it is often the reason why crab at a grocery store may not be as good as crab from a farmer’s market. It is the same damned crab, but the cooking and distribution logistics for grocery store crab is such that it is often several days before it gets cooked.

Always ask how long it was from sea to pot! If it is more than a few days, it’ll still be good, but it should be cheap, too!

So, I picked up a bunch of already cooked crab from the same guy I buy from for the crab party. I threw a bunch of old bay seasoning in a large pot on a turkey burner, and brought it to the boil.

To serve the crab, I cracked and cleaned each crab into two halves. The halves were then tossed into the boiling water for a couple of minutes to add some fresh flavor and bring up the temperature without cooking them further.

These halves were then served with butter. That’s it. Delicious.

Hello Butternut Squash Pie

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert!

And, for dessert, I made 2 butternut squash pies. I had a total blond moment during the making of and ended up adding a bit much in the way of cayenne pepper.

There should be just enough to bring out flavors without being able to taste it. You could definitely taste it in the resulting pie. Not too strong at all, but a slight bit of surprise.

I also made a traditional Apple pie. I drizzled the apples with Agave Nectar for sweetness. The result was delicious.

And, yes, those are “Hello Kitty on the top of the pies. Christine has a cake making set that includes an entire set of Sanrio characters.

The whole meal was accompanied by a Savannah & Chanelle Chardonnay and a Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon (silly cheap and utterly delicious!!).

5 Responses to “Feast of the Seven Fishes”

  1. Amie says:

    As soon as I saw the pictures on Flickr, I knew I had to drop in to find some recipes. I’d love to do a 7 Seafood Christmas Eve, but I am one of 2 people in my family that eats seafood, and it’s hard to get truly fresh stuff in Pittsburgh, particularly since I am trying to keep a lot of our food consumption local (and all the seafood I like is predominently west coast in origin)

    Did you cook your mussels with wine at all? Or did the tomatoes provide enough liquid? They look amazing, and are probably the thing I lust after the most in the menu, excepting maybe that apple pie!

    Merry Christmas, Bill! I hope you and the fam had an utterly fantastic holiday 🙂

  2. Dad says:

    Yes. You all ate well and i went on a sea food diet, although i ate the linguini and clam sauce.
    the feasting continued on Christmas Eve with Bill making lamb in the green egg which was delicious.
    it was a very memorable Christmas for the ACTIVE ADULTS being with you and Chris and My boy, Roger who just loves pounding on Papa Joe’s belly.

  3. Ann Denise says:


  4. Paul says:


    great recipes.

    If you want you can add these to Garlicoon, the Food & Wine network.


  5. Earl Netwal says:

    I publish a simple Christmas Cookbook, and was looking for new recipes and ideas. Your beautiful pictures and feast make me jealous.

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