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Here at About the Table, we have strong roots in Italian culture. And because of that, we’d love to introduce you to one of our favorite Christmas traditions: The Feast of the Seven Fishes. 

Italian view of the ocean.

It’s not only one of our team’s most treasured Italian traditions; it is one of our most treasured Christmas traditions. It comes full of bright flavors and steeped in a bit of history. 

We decided to whip up a Feast of the Seven Fishes simple menu to share with you – garnished with a few tips and thoughts from our very own Chef Mark.

What is the tradition of the seven fishes? 

Nobody knows precisely where the whole “seven” part of the tradition comes from because we have to be honest–there are way more than seven kinds of fish on any self-respecting Italian-American family’s Christmas Eve dinner table!

But we were curious about the history of the feast itself, so we did a bit of digging. We discovered there’s an entire movie about it (who knew?). According to IMDB, the film “…follows a large Italian family on Christmas Eve as they prepare for the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes, reminisce about the past, and seek love in the future.”

So if you are looking for a new Christmas Eve viewing experience, there you go.

But other than that, it turns out that the tradition has its origins in the Roman Catholic tradition of not eating meat in the days leading up to Christmas. It wasn’t until Christmas day itself that all the roast duck and geese and other dishes made an appearance. 

Friends celebrate Christmas eve with sparklers.

What do the seven fish represent? 

Nobody knows what the significance of the number seven is. Some think it is a reference to the seven hills of Rome, and others believe it is simply a Biblical number that got thrown in along the way. 

In any case, you don’t have to have seven types of fish on your table. Nor are there any standard dishes you “have” to use (except for salted codfish, which is practically a must). 

A variety of seafood sits on ice.

Feast of the Seven Fishes Tips and Tricks

  • Stick to basics. 

We included a lot of recipes on this list, some easier than others. If you aren’t an expert seafood chef, you might find the list intimidating. Simplify things by sticking with the easier choices. Stuffed mushrooms with crab, the smoked salmon platter, shrimp cocktail, clams and linguini, or cioppino are all super approachable options. These recipes require minimal ingredients and assembly, or they are one-pot meals. 

  • Make things ahead of time. 

When it comes to seafood, you are better off making as many things as you can fresh. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make some things in advance, such as sauces and salads. You can prepare garnishes and such beforehand, making the day-of prep so much easier. 

  • Choose family-style over a coursed meal. 

As professional chefs, we adore a coursed menu more than anyone else on earth. But if you want to keep things simple, it is best to stick with a spread of plates that people can enjoy, family-style. It’s easier on that stack of dishes you might have piling up in the kitchen too. 

  • Pair the seafood with white wine. 

If you don’t pair it with a gorgeous white wine, your seafood meal is nothing. We realize that wine can get complicated, so we won’t go overboard on the advice here. Just choose a bottle of sauvignon blanc, and you should be good to go. 

  • Don’t forget the crusty bread. 

A Feast of the Seven Fishes is nothing without a large loaf of crusty bread. You and your guests will need it to sop up all those delicious juices from the seafood dishes! And a small dish of olive oil alongside the bread is always a must. 

  • Include a palate cleanser. 

With all these delectable dishes being passed around, your mouth might explode from the sheer volume of Italian flavors being doled out. Give yourself (and your guests) something to keep all those ingredients from becoming mutes. Good palate cleansers include limoncello or anything else light and containing a bit of lemon. 

Options for A Feast Of The Seven Fishes Simple Menu

Fish dishes sit on a dinner table.

Feast of the Seven Fishes Simple Menu: Appetizers

  • Stuffed calamari with breadcrumbs, garlic, and herbs
  • Mushrooms stuffed with crab
  • Smoked salmon platter (capers, red onion, tomatoes, crackers, etc.)
  • Scungilli salad (usually conch, calamari, shrimp, olives, garlic, and herbs)
  • Smelts (breaded and fried small fish)
  • Baccala (salted codfish)
  • Mussels or calamari 
  • Maryland crab saute (mushrooms, butter, crab, and vermouth)
  • Shrimp Cocktail

Feast of the Seven Fishes Simple Menu: Entrees

  • Clams & linguini
  • Seared scallops
  • Shrimp scampi (butter and garlic sauce)
  • Crab Fra Diavolo sauce with choice of pasta (spicy red sauce w/crab)
  • Cioppino (mixed seafood stew – clams, mussels, shrimp, filet fish)
  • Swordfish, tuna steak, or any filet fish with puttanesca sauce (tomatoes, olives, capers, and garlic)

We hope you enjoyed learning more about the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and we wish you and your loved ones a safe and fun holiday season, from all of us at About The Table. See you in 2022!

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