Contains: Seafood, both shellfish and finned-fish. Nightshades, but one can sub out the bell peppers back with carrots or something, if that’s desired. Is: Pretty much Paleo if you leave out the cheese in any olives. Gluten-free. Piscavore.
For the Feast of the Seven Fishes
I was inspired by the seafood salad recipe presented by Cooking with Nonna, which includes a full seven fishes in her salad. I did change out a few (availability plus desire on my part). This is NOT a copy of her recipe, but it did provide a wonderful starting point for this dish meant to combine seven fishes in a mostly-Italian style for the upcoming holiday.
I’ve mentioned in past years that this was a highlight of Dad’s celebration of Christmas Eve, as soon as he discovered that lots of seafood for that date was a thing in the Italian culture. He ended up making seafood preps for that evening (and we usually had company) sourced from as many cultures that appealed to him, and always including some sashimi as well as that Philadelphia cream cheese coated with some relatively inexpensive caviar both my parents enjoyed to provide.
For today, though, this will be more Italian in focus, although I’m not cooking all the fishes exactly as Nonna does.
Her fish: Shrimp, Calamari (Squid), Scungilli (Conch), Scallops, Baccala (Salt Cod), Mussels, Pulpo (Octopus). All but the last were simmered separately in seasoned water.
My fish: Shrimp, Calamari, Scallops, Mussels, Little Neck Clams, Salmon, Eel.
I can’t easily find conch any more – it sometimes shows up the week prior to Christmas back down there in Connecticut, but I doubt I’d find it here, and I making the recipe in advance of the holiday anyway. It is nine days before the 24th… One of those things you do for food blogs…
I dislike salt cod. Sorry. They insist salt cod is essential, but not going there. Your choice. Apparently, you do simmer or boil it, too – after rinsing off as much salt as possible.
Having just read The Soul of an Octopus, I’m not in the mood to eat this weirdly intelligent animal right now. I do have a little frozen away in the freezer, but I’ll wait on that for a few months, where I already have a recipe I want to use it in. And then, octopus will join up with bluefin tuna and several other foods I’ll no longer eat…
I subbed out the conch with those little neck clams, which I totally prefer raw, but the recipe needed a new (cooked) fish here. Salmon in a salad is always a lovely addition. I do know eel often figures in this holiday, even if not everyone of Italian heritage might appreciate it. I have a little bit frozen here.
I also departed from some of the cooking methods – I pan-fried the scallops, salmon and eel. I figured this would add additional flavor to the salad. The rest I cooked pretty much as Nonna decreed. She cooks each seafood type separately in the same pot – separately because each has a different timing for being cooked best. Since I had clams rather than conch, I cooked the clams with the mussels. Clams do need to cook longer. Conch, much longer yet.
Feel free to vary up the amounts of the various seafood. Oh, Nonna overcooks her squid in my humble opinion. Five minutes is seriously too long. I’m not into rubbery squid.
Salad: I don’t much care for raw carrots – I’ll eat them, but there are so many tastier veggies out there. Since I had a choice, and figured that the carrots were mostly for color, I bought red bell pepper.
Nonna uses the green olives with pimentos. I didn’t have her full recipe to hand when shopping, and figured that she’d be using Kalamata olives and green olives, and would skip the pimentos, which around here sound very Americanized. My green ones are stuffed with cheese, probably cream cheese, although feta or goat cheese would be fun. Do as you choose – whatever works for you. Plain, pimento, cheese. You can also stuff your own. The idea of lettuce in this also appealed. I moved the parsley from the cooking broth to the actual salad.
This is Nonna’s recipe: Seven Fishes Seafood Salad. There is also a link to a YouTube video for the recipe. I credit the two women for inspiring this recipe, despite the liberties I’ve taken here, based on availability and personal taste.
Prep Time: It took a while.
Cook Time: About 30 minutes all told.
Rest Time: Let those fishes get cold before making the salad. Then, let the salad ingredients get friendly with each other – 3 hours to overnight.
Serves: 4-6 folk.
Cuisine: Italian / Italian-inspired.
Leftovers: Sure. Just don’t add lettuce to the salad until ready to serve again.
A Salad of the Seven Fishes
The quantities of seafood in this recipe are what I personally used – adapt to your own desires and needs. The scallops were very pricy when I shopped, so that’s why I used so few of them.
- 1 pound / 450 g mussels, cleaned.
- 1.5 pounds / 680 g little neck steamer clams. (Cherrystones would be fine, too.)
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup / 120 – 160 mL Pinot Grigio or similar dry white wine.
Check your mussels and clams. Discard any that come out of your fridge open. They’re dead. Cracked ones are also suspect. (I ended up with a LOT of mussels in both conditions.) If they are open about 1/8th an inch or less, they are fine.
In a cooking pot, put 1/2 to 2/3rds cup of dry white wine. Bring to a boil. Add the mussels and the little necks. Cover until the liquid returns at least to a goodly simmer. If you are multiplying this recipe, you may want to cook the mussels and the clams consecutively, as the clams will take longer to cook and open up. Since I had so few after removing the uncooperative ones, I did them together, periodically checking for when the shellfish would open. Scoop them up with a slotted spoon or a small spider device as they open.
Any that don’t open, discard. They’re also dead, or at least arrived into that pot deceased. They should open at least a good 3/8ths an inch or a lot better. Some really small mussels don’t have the strength to fully open their shells, so take that into account. So, a good 3/8ths an inch. Or, more.
Remove the meat from the shells, toss out the shells, and reserve the meat. Strain the broth through multiple layers of cheesecloth or (better yet) muslin, to reserve the broth, and to eliminate sand and grit. (No, it won’t appear in this recipe, but great to reserve for seafood stock.)
- 0.50 pounds / 225 g shrimp (wild-caught). Pre-peel these. You can leave the tail shell on, which many may do, but I figure in a salad I’d just rather remove these as well. I don’t want to slow down the dining process in consuming and enjoying this dish. De-vein.
- 0.60 pounds / 270 g Calamari (wild-caught, cleaned). Chop the tubes into rings, about 1/2 inch / 12 mm wide (they will shrink), and don’t ignore the tentacles (unless they freak you out). Chop those into two sets of 4 tentacles apiece.
Optional: I am adding these to the recipe because that’s what Nonna does, but frankly, I couldn’t taste any of this in my seafood. Maybe you’ll fare better.
- 3 cloves garlic
- About 1 teaspoons freshly-cracked black pepper (or 12 whole peppercorns).
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 slices of lemon peel
- 1/2 cup / 120 mLwhite wine
- 1 tablespoon salt
If using, take the garlic, pepper, fennel seeds, lemon peel, and wine, and add them to the bottom of a double boiler pot, along with sufficient water to cover seafood you’ll later be adding to the top part of the pot. Bring to a boil, then add the salt. Do each of the seafood types separately (they have different cooking times). Let the water boil a couple minutes or so before adding seafood – to let the seasonings meld into the water a bit.
For the shrimp: Add, cook about 3-5 minutes, and depending on size, no more than that. Shrimp easily overcook and turn either mushy or dry. Indeed, if you happen to find the Rhode Island red shrimp, (not as likely) one minute is sufficient. Pull them out of the water in the top of that double boiler. Run under cold water for about 30 seconds. Reserve.
For the squid: Add, cook two minutes or a little less, NO MORE. Squid easily toughens. We don’t need “rubber band” food here! Pull them out of the water in the top of that double boiler. Drench under cold water for about 30 seconds. Reserve.
- 0.25 pounds / 115 g sea scallops. (By all means, add more if you wish. I was simply feeling budget-oriented…) Buy “dry scallops” – ones not injected with water solutions to make them weigh more. This means you have to trust your fishmonger. The ones with fluid injected will NOT brown up at all.
- 8 ounces / 225 g salmon, skin removed. Wild-sourced is best – I really like king salmon, but it can be a bit pricy. If farmed, only purchase from Canada, Scotland and US sources.
- 4-5 ounces / 115 – 140 g eel. Get your fishmonger to de-gut this for you. I do ask him to leave the skin on but at your option, you can have him remove it. That’s usually their default, anyway. Prior to being cooked, it is slimy, but once cooked, this scale-less fish skin forms great umami, mostly dissolving into the meat.
- Ground black pepper.
- Lemon juice from 1/3 lemon.
- 1 – 2 tablespoons of balsamic reduction (or lacking that, coconut aminos, or an Asian dumpling sauce).
These will be cooked in a skillet. You could, of course, continue to cook these last three seafood items as per the shrimp and squid, but I like adding the pan-taste to these items in a salad. Besides, boiled or simmered salmon? Just NO.
For the scallops: pat dry. Make sure your skillet is HOT. This is the other factor that will help you brown your scallops. Set the skillet at medium high, add the scallops, and flip them after two-three minutes. Cook another two, check to see how they look (ranges all cook differently), remove to a paper towel to absorb any grease.
For the salmon: There are various thicknesses in a salmon fillet. Cut accordingly, in longer slabs, and pan fry after you remove the scallops. Add a bit of ground black pepper when you put the salmon on the skillet, as well as a bit of that lemon juice. Flip anywhere between 3 – 5 minutes depending on thickness – with a bit more ground pepper. (If very thick this may take longer.) You do want to avoid overcooking the salmon. Dry is not a great idea for this. You’ll have to watch your skillet.
For the eel: Place, inside down, in a hot skillet, and use your spatula to keep the eel from closing up – press it down so the inside gets to cook at least a goodly 3-5 minutes. Flip, adding the balsamic reduction, or a gluten free dumpling sauce, or if you wish use coconut aminos. Check, reducing heat. Let it cook on the dorsal (back) side for another 5 minutes, making sure both the left and the right part of the back side get some exposure to the skillet heat. The eel should be fully cooked. Remove from skillet, allow to cool, and separate backbone from the flesh, discarding the backbone.
The salad veggies & dressing:
- 8 ounces / 225 g of mixed olives – these were half Kalamata and half green stuffed with goat cheese. Buy them pitted.
- 6 ounces red bell pepper, sliced thin then chopped once more in half.
- 4 ounces / 115 g crisp celery.
- About 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley.
- Juice from 1/2 lemon.
- 3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
- Ground black pepper to taste.
- Leaf lettuce or mixed greens. Two good handfuls, rinsed and dried (salad spinners work great).
Add the above(except the lettuce) to the combined seafood, and toss. Allow to marinate for three hours or overnight.
When ready to serve – add over lettuce. I used a pre-packaged salad mix, incorporating greens and purple salad greens. But there are so many options here.
What I would do next time (AND what I did with leftover salad): Move the garlic (finely minced), and the fennel seed to the actual salad assembly, to add when adding the lemon juice and olive oil.
Drop by any and all!