The Feast of Seven Fishes is an Italian-American tradition celebrated on Christmas Eve. As the name suggests, most of these celebrations include seven different kinds of fish (or seafood) prepared in various ways to celebrate the night before Christmas. Some, however, involve even more options- as many as nine, eleven or even thirteen types of seafood. Historically, the feast followed a 24 hour fasting period. The Feast of Seven Fishes stems from the practice of abstaining from eating meat in commemoration of waiting for the birth of the baby Jesus. While the feast is Italian in origin, many other cultures have adopted the feast and incorporated it into their annual family holiday traditions.
Although options for this meal can vary widely, underutilized species like whiting, mackerel, and delicacies like marinated octupus are often served as part of this feast. Another staple– baccala– or salt cod– is often found on the tables of Italian-Americans on Christmas eve. Back in the heyday of the Gloucester fishery, the local docks were used as giant drying stations for this classic and versatile staple.
While seven seafood dishes may seem like a huge undertaking for some, the bounty available right here off our shores provides plenty of options for a hearty feast of holiday seafood. As for preparation styles, Turner’s partners at The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association offer countless recipes in their two cookbooks- A Taste of Gloucester and The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook– which are available at many local retailers including Turner’s in Melrose and Gloucester. If you are thinking of starting a tradition of The Feast of Seven Fishes of your own, below is a recipe from the GFWA’s vault to get you started. It uses a Turner’s favorite called Hake, which is a locally caught fish that is a close cousin to cod and haddock. The mild white flakey meat of the hake has a natural light buttery flavor that lends itself to may different preparation styles. Below is a recipe for fish cakes that are sure to please the whole family on Christmas Eve:
Hake Fish Cakes
Ingredients: 1 lb Hake, cut up fine; 2 cups bread crumbs; 1 tsp salt; 1 tsp pepper; 1 small onion cut up; 1 Tbs grated cheese; 2 large eggs; 1tsp dry parsley
Directions: Mix all ingredients together and form mixture into balls, fry in olive oil until brown. Let cool slightly while preparing sauce.
Sauce Ingredients: 1 can tomatoes; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/2 tsp pepper; 1 onion, chopped
Sauce Directions: cook for twenty minutes in large sauce pan. Add fish cakes, cook for 15 minutes more. (Potatoes may be added if desired)
Merry Christmas to you and your families from all of us at Turner’s!