Have you ever participated in the Feast of the Seven Fishes? This Southern Italian feast featuring at least seven different seafood dishes is traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve. Some of the most frequently served items include dried salt cod, eel, and sardines or anchovies. But like all American versions of ethnic traditions, it has frequently been adapted to reflect local flavors and family preferences.
At the Jolly Tomato household, we decided to host a Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, but we wanted to make it kid-friendly too. (Let’s face it, even though we have some pretty open-minded seafood eaters, we were not expecting much luck with the salt cod.) So we put together a menu that was not too intimidating for our kid guests – and that the the adults could enjoy as well.
Feast of the Seven Fishes Menu:
Mini crab cakes
Grilled salmon with lemon and rosemary
Crispy minced fish sticks
Yes, I know you’re saying, “Goldfish crackers?!? Really?” But this was a quick leave-out appetizer that kept the kids entertained. We had two little guests who weren’t quite sure how they felt about fish, so this was an easy way to get them into the spirit right away.
Traditionally the Feast of the Seven Fishes includes quite a bit of shellfish, so shrimp seemed like the easiest way to incorporate that. It’s funny with kids and shrimp – they either tend to love it or hate it. We had a few shrimp-lovers in the crowd, along with a few shrimp-avoiders, so those of us who enjoy shrimp were happy to say – “More for us!” Note: The cocktail sauce is a simple mix of 1/2 cup ketchup and 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish.
Our third appetizer was mini crabcakes, which represent another easy way to get non-seafood-eating kids involved. In little cake form, they’re not quite so scary-looking as a whole crab; and the breading and seasonings make them a little more neutral-tasting for even the most picky palates. We had a small plate sitting on our appetizer table, and we noticed more than a few small hands reaching out for them; in fact, we even had one non-crab-loving adult try one.
On to the main meal: Our next fish was a Greek-style cod. This is a simple recipe that you can make with just about any sturdy whitefish: In a large pan, heat together over medium heat 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of grated lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the butter is melted, saute thin slices of 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 yellow bell pepper, and 1/2 onion. When the vegetables are tender and translucent, add 1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives and stir for one additional minute. Next, carefully place four four-ounce steaks of cod (or other sturdy white fish) over the vegetables. Cover the pan and let simmer over low heat for five minutes, or until fish is fully steamed through and flaky.
Next we served a grilled salmon, which is just about the easiest and tastiest main-course fish meal you can make. We took a large (1 1/2-pound) salmon fillet, laid it out on a large piece of foil, drizzled it with fresh lemon juice and garnished with fresh rosemary, and then grilled it (open-face, on the foil) over medium heat for about 10 minutes until it was tender and flaky.
The next fish course was the subject of some debate. Should we stick to “real” fish to make it more authentic? Or should we dumb it down for the kids? The latter argument won out, as we decided to offer some fish sticks for the kids with the least adventurous palates. We offered some crispy fish sticks made with cod, and then some of Dr. Praeger’s Potato Crusted Fishies, which also happen to be gluten free. These little fish creatures are pretty yummy, but the overwhelming taste is of potatoes. So if you have a very reluctant fish eater like we had, these might be a good “starter” fish.
Last but not least, we finished up with some fish cookies. We just used a simple butter cookie recipe and had the kids decorate to their heart’s content. We tried to keep the artificial colors to a minimum with plain white frosting and with just a few sprinkles. (Also scattered on the plate are some Swedish fish).
Oh, and there was one more fish “course,” if you want to call it that. Our present to our young attendees was this little sushi Christmas ornament. So every time they look at the Christmas tree, they’ll remember the night we ate fish…after fish…after fish.