Guilty as charged I am a foodie to the core. I love to go out to expensive restaurants, but during the holidays, it's the recipes from my childhood that make me revel in the thought of dining at home. In keeping with my Italian Catholic heritage tradition, I attempt the “7 Fish Feast” on Christmas Eve every year. A feast beyond feasts that is made up of, yep, you guessed it - seven fishes. I make numerous trips to the grocery store prior to Christmas Eve and I slave for days preparing the infamous feast. Like most Italian cooks will tell you, cooking Italian food is a labor of love and the 7 Fish Feast is no exception.
Over the years I’ve had many people ask me, ‘What in the heck are the seven fishes? And why are there seven?‘ When I thought about the answer, memories of my mother and grandmother came to mind of being elbow deep in fish and I would defiantly blurt out, "Italians don't eat meat the day before Christmas." But that didn't satiate half the people who asked and made me wonder, was there really any national or religious meaning associated with it? Or was it just something my family made up? So I started to ask other Italian friends and and they had also celebrated Christmas Eve with the "7 Fish Feast" but they too, had just grown up and accepted it as a family holiday tradition with recipes passed down from generation to generation.
After a little online consulting and numerous interviews with Italian compadres there seemed to be a method to the madness of why seven and why fish. As it turns out, the number of fish can be any odd number (3,5,7,9,13…) but it’s always an odd number. The number traditionally settled on is seven. Through all of my investigative research I found and heard many different stories, but all seemed to come back to the number of seven and it was usually related to the seven sacraments. However, some Italian Catholics said you could do three fishes and it symbolized the Holy Trinity, or as many as 13 fishes which symbolized the 12 apostles plus Jesus. For all we know, seven probably seemed like a good number in the middle that someone compromised on. As for the fish part, it seemed that since Roman Catholics observe Christmas Eve in the waiting for the birth of Baby Jesus, it is believed that they do not eat meat on Christmas Eve, just as they observe Good Friday, etc.
But for me the more important and obvious question is why fish and not pasta? Yet somehow the answer to that question continues to elude us all. Growing up we'd always had some sort of pasta for the kids, probably because most kids scowl at the taste of fish unless they are breaded and dipped in ketchup. Yet one thing was consistent - the types of fish. The seven fishes always included: clams, shrimp, baccalao, smelts, sardines, crab, and squid or octopus. My favorite was always the shrimp cocktail or the crab cakes. Two recipes I have slightly modified over the years to fondly call my own.
- 16 oz. canned crab meat (or fresh if you want to pick through the shells)
- 1 TBSP Worcestshire sauce
- 1/4 c. mayonaise
- 1 TBSP dijon mustard
- 3 TBSP chopped chives (fresh)
- 1/4 tsp Old Bay Seasoning or your favorite hot sauce
- 3/4 c. Panko bread crumbs
- olive oil for frying
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Mix first 6 ingredients and 1/4 c of panko bread crumbs. Add in egg. Using approximately 2-3 TBSP of mixture formulate 1-1/2" cakes. Coat the crab cakes in the remainder of the panko bread crumbs. Transfer to baking sheet and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow the cakes to congeal. Fry 'em up! (about 2 minutes per side).