Like many families with Italian heritage, Dan’s family does seven fish for Christmas Eve. My family has done seven fish in the past as well, although in more recent years, we’ve done meatless dishes instead of just fish. My parents still do like to do lobster, though.
My MIL had wanted to pass the Christmas Eve feast to us last year, but we went up to Erie for Christmas Eve instead.
So, the baton, and the apron, got passed this year instead.
We (my husband, my SIL, my MIL, and I) sat down one Saturday early in December to work out the menu. We decided on the following:
White clam sauce
Crab cake (2 — one for my MIL, one for Nephew)
Plus: green beans.
And dessert was going to be Christmas cookies.
I started the Saturday before Christmas by baking cookies all day. One evening of the week, I made a double batch of marinara sauce, split it and added tuna to half. Another evening I made the white clam sauce.
The trickiest dish was the cod. My MIL had offered to fry the smelt and the cod. But my husband brought home a huge piece of salted cod — known as baccala. He was so excited when he presented it to me. I looked at it and thought, “I have no idea what to do with that.”
Thank goodness for the Internet.
When we had baccala when I was a child, my grandmother made it, and it was in a thick tomato sauce and served over polenta. But Dan had found a baccala salad recipe he wanted me to try. I was game, although I did have to send him to the grocery store on Christmas Eve day for ingredients.
Something else interesting: no two recipes for white clam sauce were the same. Some included heavy cream, one I saw had Old Bay spice. So I just looked around and made up my own version.
White Clam Sauce (for Linguine)
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 cans of whole clams, chopped, with juice (I put them in my mini food processor)
Heat butter and olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about five minutes. Add the clams and juice. Heat gently through.
When ready to serve, add parsley, and toss with hot linguine noodles.
1 1/2 to 2 pounds of baccala
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup small fresh basil leaves (I had to use dried, and only used about a tablespoon)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar (I forgot this, and it was not missed as far as I can tell)
3 tablespoons olive oil
The tricky part of salt cod, or baccala, is that it’s not something that you fry or otherwise cook for a long time. Also: all that salt.
The Monday before Christmas Eve, I rinsed the coating of salt off the fish. Then I cut up the cod into about five pieces, say 3 to 4 ounces each, and started soaking it in water. The water has to be changed every eight to twelve hours.
The day of: Drain cod and cut up into smaller pieces, about 1 x 1 inch. Put into a pot of water, and bring water to a simmer; simmer — do not boil — for about three to four minutes. Fish should easily flake.
Pull cod out of water with slotted spoon and transfer to platter to cool.
Once it’s cool, shred the cod and mix with celery, garlic, olives, roasted peppers, parsley, and basil.
Stir together lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, and oil, and pour over salad. Toss everything to coat well, and chill until serving.
This was the best fish dish I made Christmas Eve. It will be on the menu in coming years!
- Kate learned how to clean and fry smelt with my SIL, so that tradition can continue.
- The shrimp cocktail and crab cakes barely count, as I didn’t really “make” anything. But, hey, fish.
- Our guest, our nanny’s boyfriend, cooked the calamari; we kept it simple; he sautéed it with oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
- All the children like fish. They ate (or at least tried) everything. The shrimp, smelt, and calamari were especially popular.
What did you have good to eat over the holidays?