The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition very dear to us. Over the next week, we will feature our seven fishes dishes with casual recipes to follow. This is how The Long Fork does the Feast of Seven Fishes. We invite you to our table.
In parts of Italy, Christmas Eve is celebrated with abundanza of food and an all-fish menu. Over the last century and a half, many of those Italians made their home here on Long Island and continued feasting over the many Christmas Eves since.
We encourage you to enjoy the bounty provided by our good waters, be it the Sound, the Great South Bay, or the mighty ocean. It is possible to be as local as possible while still honoring tradition. Of course, there will be some imports! That’s to be expected (there aren’t exactly olive groves or octopus here), but you can get so much right here in your own backyard.
To begin our feast, we like a little something raw to delight our palates. There’s perhaps nothing as indigenous to our Long Island history as oysters. They were present at most celebrations—Thanksgiving included (they were the star, not turkey). We pay homage to the humble yet beautiful oyster.
Fried Mixed Seafood Platter
Fritto Misto di Mare
Something that can be found at nearly every feast is some form of fried seafood. It may be simple, but it tastes anything but basic. We varied our coatings before frying to bring out the best in each and really make them sing.
Here we fried hand-sliced calamari dredged in semolina flour, our wild-caught shrimp in panko, diver scallops in homemade breadcrumbs made from toasted peasant bread with fresh parsley, and smelts simply in all-purpose flour seasoned with garlic powder. Of course, we salted all breadings prior to dredging.
We served these crunchy yet juicy morsels with a squeeze of lemon.
Blue Claw Crabs in Tomato Sauce
This dish is near and dear to our Long Fork hearts. This dish has been prepared with love for more than 50 years.
The tradition is to let the crabs (which were, incidentally, caught by the cook) simmer in a pot of homemade tomato sauce so the sweet briny flavor infuses throughout. Spaghetti or another linear pasta is tossed with the sauce, crabs and all. Or like we did for this feast, just serve the sauce-cooked crabs, as is, and enjoy with abandon and little care for red fingers and messy cracked shells.
The high season for scooping Blue Claws out of the dockside waters, quite truthfully, is when the kids go back to school. But have no fear, commercial fishermen extend their efforts so families who adore them can have fresh-caught crabs at their own Feast of Seven Fishes.
Local Cod Topped with a Roasted Mediterranean Mélange
Our Long Island winter waters provide such beautiful cod that we couldn’t resist replacing traditional baccala with their pillowy white goodness.
Simply toss some colorful cherry (or grape) tomatoes, garlic cloves, smashed Castelvetrano olives, and capers in olive oil. Roast the mixture in the oven, on a sheet pan, until they are caramelized. Season with sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and fresh Italian parsley, and serve the Mediterranean mélange on top of the fillets that were baked until flaky and white.
Luckily cherry and grape tomatoes are always cheery and delicious subjects even in winter whilst beefsteaks are iffy on a good day.
Reserve baccala for another time.
Linguini with Littleneck Clams
You can get clams on demand here on Long Island in any shape and size. Anthony from New Wave Seafood provided the Littlenecks for our pasta dish. There are few things more comforting than a big bowl of garlicky clams over linguini. A guaranteed crowd pleaser, this dish adds a bit more substance to your feast.
Here we sauté copious amounts of garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Next, we add local Littleneck clams and a generous splash of white wine. As the clams open, we melt in some butter to add a beautiful depth of flavor. We then remove from heat, pour it all over a heaping bowl of pasta, throw in a handful of chopped parsley and a bit of reserved salty pasta water, toss together, and voilà!
Insalata di Mare
As long as we can remember there has been a seafood salad gracing the Christmas Eve table. The contents may have changed throughout the years, but the method remains the same.
We poach each type of seafood to optimal tenderness in water and white wine. Fresh lemon juice and zest, garlic, salt, pepper, celery, olives, capers, scallions, and parsley are made into a marinade that the seafood will sit in for at least eight hours. This marinade flavors the dish in a beautiful way by livening up the sometimes canned seafood that was available in days of old (aka our childhoods) but it is equally fantastic for the fresh fare we were fortunate to find today. Use what you can get your hands on. We try to use local if possible, but as octopus and scungilli are dear to our memories, we purchased them even though they are not native to our waters.
Whole Roasted Blackfish
Our plan was to feature a beautiful local fish and roast it whole, serving it in all its glory.
Our first try was a gorgeous striped bass. The smallest one for sale was 30 inches according to regulation, and we found when we got it home that it was too large for our ovens. We opted for a fish that is our favorite after all—blackfish. It is smaller, so if you have a large number of guests, you should bake two…or three.
We purchased our blackfish at Claws Seafood Market, where they cleaned and scaled it for us. We had a fun time with the staff; they were so accommodating trying to help us find the most attractive blackfish (which is no easy task!).
We stuffed it with citrus fruit, garlic, bay leaves, herbs, parsley, salt/ pepper, and oil and baked on a pan at 370 degrees for about 45 minutes. So simple and so delicious. We highly recommend trying it for your next dinner party or feast.
We are so lucky to have access to fresh-caught, chemical-free seafood. New Wave and Claws are where we shopped. In keeping with our local theme, we chose Bedell Cellars’ First Crush White and Taste Red. It went nicely with the seafood we served. The white is a Chardonnay/ Riesling and the red a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Both blends are aged in stainless steel to preserve their easy-going nature. That sums it up nicely—fun and light.
We had a great time preparing our feast. All of us at TLF and Aristo Studios have our own Christmas Eve traditions. It was really fun exploring them—there are many similarities, but there is always something that’s unique to each feast. The most important thing is who we share it with, but great food never hurts. We wish you many many tasty feasts to come.