As you may have noticed, we and our good friends at Clean Catch and The Plaid Penguin are fond of two things: good food and a good celebration. We also love ourselves a good culinary experiment. As the holidays approached this year, we all knew we wanted to try our hands at something new as we planned our annual photo-worthy party. The only requirement was that this year, the spread present us with both a culinary challenge and with a tradition we could carry on in for years to come.
Like most, we typically go for all the holiday classics: turkey, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits and sweet potato pie. Seafood might not seem like the most festive of the holiday dishes, but somehow it called to all of us. The traditional Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes is said to have begun in the southern regions of Italy, history-laden places like Naples and Sicily. In the old country, Catholic Italians abstain from meat and dairy in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, and since meats aren’t eaten again until after Midnight Mass on Christmas Day, fish became the star of the show.
Done in full holiday effect, the spread traditionally features seven different types of seafood dishes. Each family chooses which fruits de mer will be indulged in, but standardly everything from squid to cod, crab, scallops, octopus, shrimp, clams, oysters, and lobsters make its way to the table.
This was exactly the kind of cooking challenge we wanted. And, even better, what the Feast of Seven Fishes really is about is gathering. In the middle of hectic work schedules and deadlines, and with only 36 hours to plan, we met with The Plaid Penguin Team and called up our comrades at Clean Catch. We threw together lengthy shopping lists, photo mood boards and formulated recipes. We squeezed in conference calls and our publisher made a grocery run on his way to the airport.
When it came time, we filled our Yeti Tundra with some of the Southeast’s finest seafood and carried everything next door to our neighbors at The Igloo (Plaid Penguin Headquarters). We filled their in-office test kitchen and a dozen of us stood around in the chilly air and fired up the charcoal grills as the nostalgic scent of burning pine wafted through our food-loving huddle.
Charlie Reid, the Johnson & Wales trained chef at Clean Catch, whipped up dish after dish from Pine Smoked Oysters, to Grilled Lobster Chowder and a killer Salt-Baked Branzino. Charlie was a true pro, and managed somehow to keep the entire scene clean and tidy as he cooked, we tasted, and Lunahzon snapped photos.
We walked away with full bellies, a slew of gorgeous shots, recipes we each intend to store away for the future, and a sense of a new shared tradition. Next year’s Feast of Seven Fishes, we’ve already decided, will be even bigger and the food even more delicious. Whether you hold your feast on Christmas Eve or on another day, we can’t help but recommend you look into hosting your own version. You can cook up three seafood dishes or thirteen, but it’s one more excuse to step back from the business of the season and the daily grind. Instead, by breaking bread (and lobster claws) we can all focus on what really matters: food, health, happiness, and the ones we love.
The FeastGrilled Sardines Murder Ink Pasta Grilled Lobster Bavette and Prawns Lobster Chowder King Crab Cioppino