Seafood Recipes for the Feast of the Seven Fishes

Feast Seven Fishes Hero
If you grew up in an Italian or Italian American family, you’ll know the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the big meal traditionally served on Christmas Eve. But no matter where you’re from, we can all agree that savoring the very best seafood is always a good idea, especially during the holiday season. Whether it’s an old tradition in your family or a new one you’d like to give a try, you can celebrate no matter the size of your group. To get into the spirit, fill your table with a few (or all) of these seafood recipes that we like to break out for the occasion.

We like to start off with light bites like marinated squid and chickpeas, baked clams and some fried smelts. Alongside, open a few different specialty seafood tins from Ramón Peña to serve with good, crusty bread and a crisp white wine.

After some snacking, good conversation and plenty of laughter, we bring out a few of the dishes that have been made legendary by nonnas: baccala, spaghetti and clams and a family-sized salt-baked fish accompanied by an easy little gem salad with bottarga, anchovies and a healthy drizzle of lemon juice. For dessert, treat everyone to a traditional holiday sweet bread like panettone, sliced and served with a smear of pistachio cream—just a little indulgence to finish off a seafood feast that nobody will forget.

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Jump to the individual recipes:

Salt Baked Whole Fish
Spaghetti and Clams
Baked Clams
Baccala with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers
Squid with Marinated Chickpeas
Fried Smelts
Grilled Sardines
Oven-Roasted Head-on Shrimp
Salad with Bottarga and Anchovies

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Salt Baked Whole Fish

Feast Seven Fishes Salt Baked Fish

This simple technique might sound fancy and salty, but it isn’t! Salt-baking is a great method for cooking whole fish, infusing it with gentle flavors, trapping in the moisture, and filling your home with the lovely scent of aromatics. It’s an entertaining showstopper and no one needs to know just how easy it is to make.

What You’ll Need:
1 whole jumbo branzino or tai snapper
6 cups coarse kosher salt
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 sprig of rosemary, cut into a few pieces
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 star anise pod, cracked
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup egg whites (from 6 large eggs)

What to Do:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Finely grate zest of lemon and orange into a large bowl, add the salt, rosemary, fennel seed, star anise and egg whites. Mix well, sprinkling with water if needed until the texture is like wet sand.

Spread a third of the mixture flat on a baking tray. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and rub it with olive oil, coating the whole fish. Place on top of salt mixture, then cover with the remaining salt mixture, using your hands to mold it into shape, covering every inch of the fish.

Bake for 15 minutes and let rest for 10 before carefully breaking crust from the side, lifting off the hard, top shell. Peel off the skin and discard. The meat should slide effortlessly off the bone for easy serving. Serve with a good dose of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.

Spaghetti and Clams

Feast Seven Fishes Clams

What You’ll Need:
3 pounds fresh cockles or 3 dozen littleneck clams
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
½ cup dry white vermouth or white wine
1 pound dried spaghetti
1 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
Small handful parsley leaves, minced (optional)

What to Do:
Rinse and scrub clams to remove sand and grit. If you have time, purge the clams in 1 quart of cold water with 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sea salt for at least an hour.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Place a large saucepan over medium-low heat, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic and chili pepper. Sauté gently until garlic is a golden in color.

Add vermouth and clams, and cover. Raise heat and carefully shake pan occasionally. Clams should open in 2 to 4 minutes. Remove clams and place into a bowl as they open to avoid overcooking.

While the clams are cooking, add the spaghetti to boiling water and cook until slightly undercooked. Drain pasta and add to the sauté pan once all clams have opened, returning any clams and their juices to the pot and removing any clams that have not opened. Add remaining olive oil and butter and over low heat, toss for 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary and add additional oil if needed. Add parsley and give a final toss before serving.

Baked Clams

Feast Seven Fishes Baked Clams

What You’ll Need:
3 dozen littleneck clams
2 cups white wine
1½ cup shallots, sliced
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
½ cup parsley
3 sprigs of thyme
11 ounces softened butter
2 tablespoons prosciutto or Serrano ham, finely diced
2 teaspoons shallots, minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, minced
Salt and pepper
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs for the filling, plus more for the topping

What to Do:
Add all the ingredients except the clams to a pot and bring to boil. Add the clams in one layer and cover. Shake occasionally. Remove clams as they open and place into a bowl to avoid overcooking. Discard any unopened clams.

Allow the clams to cool before removing them from their shells. Save 36 shell halves for stuffing.

To make the stuffing, mix the butter, ham, shallots, garlic, parsley and panko breadcrumbs together in a bowl. Place a cooked clam in each half shell and cover with a teaspoon dollop of the filling. Place on a baking pan, sprinkling with some additional panko.

Preheat your oven’s broiler and broil clams until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Baccala with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers

Feast Seven Fishes Baccala
This recipe requires some planning as the salt cod needs to be soaked in water for 2 days in the refrigerator, changing the water several times daily.

What You’ll Need:
1 pound salt cod, soaked in several changes of water for 48 hours
1 cup flour
One 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup loosely packed parsley, chopped
5 olives, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped
Salt and pepper

What to Do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, diced onions and a teaspoon of salt. Cook until soft but not browning. Add garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes. Drain whole peel tomatoes from the can, saving the juice for another use. Crush tomatoes in your hands while adding to the saucepan. Slowly simmer the tomato sauce for 15 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, cut the cod into 2-inch pieces and dry on a towel. Toss dried cod in flour. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and when hot, add the salt cod, shaking off excess flour. Sauté until golden and gently flip and repeat. Be sure not to crowd the pan and fry in batches if necessary. Remove and place on a paper towel lined pan.

When the cod is finished browning, add half the chopped olives and parsley to the sauce and mix. Nestle cod pieces into the sauce and place pan into the oven. Bake in oven 15 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with chopped capers and parsley to serve.

Squid with Marinated Chickpeas

Feast Seven Fishes Squid

What You’ll Need:
1 pound squid
One 15 ounce can chickpeas / garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt to taste

What to Do:
Place chickpeas in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, oregano, lemon juice, lemon zest, half the parsley, half the garlic, and sea salt and mix well. Let marinate in the fridge for several hours. Remove from refrigerator an hour prior to serving and place in a serving bowl to allow to come to room temperature.

Cut squid tube into rings. Place rings and legs on a towel to dry. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add a tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Add the squid and turn the heat up high. Season with a pinch of salt and sauté for a minute, stirring often. Squeeze on a little lemon juice, add remaining parsley and place sautéed squid into the bowl with the marinated chickpeas.

Fried Smelts

Feast Seven Fishes Smelts

What You’ll Need:
1 pound cleaned smelts
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup loosely-packed parsley, chopped
1 lemon

What to Do:
Place smelts on a paper towel and top with another towel to pat dry.

Toss salt and flour together on a plate or in a pie dish.

Place oil in a deep-frying pan and place over medium-high heat.

While oil heats, toss smelts with the flour and salt mixture.

Individually lower smelts into the hot oil to fry. Be sure not to crowd the pan; fry in several batches, if necessary.

Remove smelts with a slotted spoon once they start to turn golden and place on a paper towel to drain and cool. Sprinkle with more salt, if needed, and some chopped parsley. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side.

Grilled Sardines

Feast Seven Fishes Sardines

What You’ll Need:
¾ cup kosher salt
1 gallon water
1 pound sardines, rinsed, scaled and gutted, if preferred
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste

What to Do:
In a large pot or container, make a brine with the water and kosher salt. Add the sardines to the brine and let soak for 15 minutes.

Remove sardines from the brine and dry on a towel.

Toss the sardines with the olive oil and grill over medium-high heat for one minute on each side. If you do not have a grill, you can place in a large metal strainer and grill over an open flame on your stove top.

Sprinkle sardines with sea salt and serve.

Oven-Roasted Head-on Shrimp

Feast Seven Fishes Shrimp

What You’ll Need:
½ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 cups ice water
1 pound head-on shrimp
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large pot or container, make a brine with the water and kosher salt. Cut down the back of the shell of the shrimp and remove the vein. Add the shrimp to the brine and let soak for 20 minutes.

Remove the shrimp from the brine and dry on a towel. Toss in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and place on a sheet pan. Place in the oven and roast for 5 to 7 minutes.

Finish with a squeeze of lemon, sea salt and parsley to serve.

Salad with Bottarga and Anchovies

Salad with Bottarga

What You’ll Need:
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 fillets oil cured anchovies, plus more for topping
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pinch salt
1 pinch sugar
2 cups canola oil
5 heads little gem lettuces, or 2 romaine hearts, trimmed and separated into leaves, washed and dried.
1 lemon, juiced for drizzling
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 to 2 tablespoons finely grated bottarga (cured mullet roe), for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper

What to Do:
Using a blender, food processor or bowl and whisk, thoroughly mix 2 anchovy fillets, vinegar, mustard, a pinch of salt and sugar, breaking up anchovies into a loose paste. Slowly add the canola oil, a little at a time, until an emulsified, creamy vinaigrette forms.

Place leaves of the lettuce on a serving plate and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Top leaves with additional anchovies, a squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, and black pepper on top. Finish by sprinkling pre-grated bottarga or a freshly-grated bottarga lobe on top.