Island Fishmonger: Listen, one and all, to the story of the Feast of the Seven Fishes

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By Scott Dolan

Ham is the usual highlight for Christmas, but more and more families these days are making seafood a major part of their holiday menu. As a kid I grew up with oyster stew and jumbo shrimp cocktail on Christmas and Alaskan king crabs for New Year’s.

We all have our own holiday traditions. Some like their deviled eggs. Some like their green bean casserole but me … I’m a seafood guy. For the last several years I’ve been enjoying the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Dec. 24.

What is this, you ask? Well, let me tell you. It’s an Italian/American Christmas Eve tradition for many.

The origin of the feast can be traced back to both northern and southern Italy. Those areas are surrounded by beautiful coastlines, so seafood has been a large part of the locals’ diet for generation. A meatless meal is common on Christmas Eve around Italy.

I researched the origin and found that if you ask seven different Italian/American families, you will probably get seven different answers as to why the number seven was attached to the feast. Most probably, the Feast of Seven Fishes has religious ties but who really knows.

No matter if you choose to adhere to the seven fishes — which is clams, fried smelts, baccala (aka salted cod), scungilli (aka conch), mussels, calamari and lobster — or not and instead keep it simple with two or three seafood dishes, pasta is usually a main course while other seafoods are just as delicious and enjoyed on their own.

A lot of folks just make a stew or a boil with seven different seafood items in a pot and call it day.

All of the previously mentioned items are available at Big Water Fish Market by pre-ordering these specialty items ahead of time.

My American/Italian/Irish menu usually consists of anchovy Caesar salad, grilled oysters, octopus salad, clams casino, steamed mussels and a fra diavolo — which is a pasta dish that consists of a spicy tomato sauce with shrimp, scallops and lobster.

Winner, winner, seafood dinner.

December seafood is abundant and it’s the peak of the year for fishermen as the change in the weather brings us some delicious and healthy diet options. Stone crabs are in season and oysters are salty, juicy and delicious this time of year.

There’s a bountiful number of fish such as cobia, pompano and tripletail swimming in Sarasota Bay as we speak.

There is also plenty of offshore action yielding lots of mahi, hogfish, snappers and groupers, now that season has opened back up.

Imported live lobster and PEI mussels are back as the Canadian border has finally re-opened with plenty of halibut, cod and scallops being imported in from the Boston seafood docks.

Whatever your seafood needs may be, you can find it at Big Water Fish Market and if we don’t have it in stock, we normally can get it in within 24 hours. Just ask!

Here is a fra diavolo recipe I use with scallops, shrimp, and lobster — but you can add as few or as many items as you’d like.

• 1 pound medium shrimp peeled and de-veined, 1 pound scallops & 1 pound of lobster

• 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt

• 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

• 4 tablespoons olive oil divided

• 1 medium onion thinly sliced

• 8 ounces dry linguine

• 14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes with juices

• cup dry white wine

• 3 large cloves garlic chopped

• ½ teaspoon dried oregano

• ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

• ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Add seafood, salt and crushed red pepper to bowl and toss to coat. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add seafood and cook and stir until cooked through, about two minutes.

Transfer seafood to plate and set aside. To the same skillet add remaining olive oil and onion and cook and stir five minutes or until translucent. Then add tomatoes with juices, wine, garlic and oregano.

Reduce heat, stir and simmer 10 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. While that is going, cook the linguine in a large pot until al dente; drain (do not rinse).

Add seafood and pasta to tomato mixture and toss well to combine. Stir in basil and parsley, serve and enjoy!

 Happy holidays to all!


Scott Dolan
Author: Scott Dolan

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