Last year I had a truncated feast – I think it was four fishes.
This year I had all seven.
And while this is an Italian Christmas Eve tradition, one has no need to stay with Italian methods of preparation. (Or so my father indicated, once he discovered that this was a tradition – in fact, he’d go to town and take over the concept big time, his way. Fish, fish, fish. And fish, fish, fish. And, more fish. Maybe even more than seven! Anyhow, I follow the Father Tradition in my Feast of the Seven Fishes…)
This is my 2016 lineup:
- Smoked salmon rolled up with cream cheese, dill, topped with salmon roe (ikura). This was wild coho salmon.
- Smoked trout topped with cream cheese, dill, flying fish roe (tobico).
- Marinated herring, fresh from the jar…
- Yellofin tuna sashimi with wasabi and tamari.
- Balsamic and tamari fried eel.
- Breaded fried smelts.
I was hoping to find a fish I’d want to poach, but the only fishes I saw for poaching were salmon (I already had two forms of salmon to hand) or trout (already had one form of trout to hand). Well, they did have tilapia, but that’s not one of my favorites, and I’m not keen on how it is raised for the most part. Ditto Chilean sea bass (Pantagonian tooth fish), which I’ve only eaten once in my life, and I really think I’d gotten a bad one, but that one turned me off of that particular fish forever. Which is just as well.
I started Christmas eve off with The Feast of the Two Ova for breakfast!
- Chicken egg omelet, with a spicy melting cheese and most of a scallion inside,
- and salmon roe (ikura) sprinkled with the greener parts of the scallion atop, for that holiday festive red/orange and green ambiance. Ground black pepper inside and out.
Note: somewhere in my past I tried cooking the ikura, and I was not pleased with the results. For something as expensive as this, add the ikura as a topping after you plate the omelet!
There’s not much to say about the prepping of the first five items that you can’t gather from the photo – the salmon was indeed rolled up with more cream cheese (you can use goat cheese) and dill inside. The smoked trout was too thick to roll up, so I simply sectioned it, and topped it. Everything was served above a bed of salad (that resembled crispy cole slaw without the mayo or other wetting agents). The salad was at the salad bar at Stew Leonard’s, the grocery from which I obtained the ikura, tobico, marinated herring, and the tuna. (The other fish came from ShopRite.)
That leaves us with the eel and the smelts, both pretty simple, too.
Eel is a fish I buy once a year, simply for this feast (which, I sprawled out across the day). I have the fishmonger gut the thing, as believe me, that’s one thing you don’t want to do! I have them leave the skin on, but that’s up to you. It’s not scaly, and when you cook it the slimy part cooks away and is not present when you eat it.
Prep: 5 minutes.
Cook: 8 minutes.
Balsamic, Teriyaki Pan-Fried Eel
- 1 eel (they come in different sizes) chopped into 1.5 inch segments.
- Cooking oil (I used a splash of avocado oil, enough to coat the pan)
- A fruity balsamic vinegar (I used strawberry balsamic)
- Tamari or coconut aminos.
Turn the heat up to medium on your range, and allow the oil to heat up to temperature in your skillet or pan.
Then add your eel, and follow immediately with the balsamic, enough to coat the fish on both sides. Then add in a tablespoon or two of tamari.
Cook, turning occasionally, for about 8 minutes total.
Serve with your choice of a vegetable side. Bok choy with water chestnuts would be good.
Smelts are a small fish that provides high benefits of calcium, and being small, they are also not mercury accumulators. They’re also highly sustainable, so I try to buy them frequently throughout the year. With the smallest ones, you can eat the backbones (hence the calcium) – otherwise, it is easy enough to discard the backbone while eating them. In my dinner, I ate about half a pound, along with salad and the amount of eel depicted above.
They are usually sold already cleaned and de-headed.
Prep: About 5 minutes.
Cook: About 6 minutes.
Gluten-Free Buckwheat-Breaded Fried Smelts
- Fried smelts, rinsed.
- 1/2 part butter to 1/2 part avocado oil, amount depends on skillet size. You’ll want a little more than a coating amount, but you don’t want to turn the skillet into a deep fat fryer, either.
- Buckwheat flour, enough to coat the amount of smelts you’ll be cooking.
- Ground black pepper, to taste.
Turn the heat up to medium on your range, and allow the butter/oil to heat up to temperature in your skillet or pan.
Dip the smelts into the buckwheat flour, rolling them around so they get coated inside and out.
Place them in the skillet and cook, three minutes per side. Flip one final time for another few seconds, then remove and plate on top of a crunchy salad.
I finished up the smelts (same prep) for Christmas breakfast, along with a fried egg. I chopped the rest of the eel into two and froze one half for later – the other half is refrigerated for later. Eel freezes well. I finished the tuna sashimi for mid-day snack, and prepared the rest of the smoked fishes on Christmas morning for an appetizer platter to take to friends for Christmas dinner (using a spreadable goat cheese instead of cream cheese, and for visual effect, putting tobico on the smoked salmon, and the ikura on the trout…). Along with more of the marinated herring. And along with garlic hummus, a crabmeat spread, and chopped veggie crudities.
May you all be having the happiest of holidays, whichever ones you and yours celebrate!