After the recent Great Goose Debacle, my family made a pact to have a poultry-free Christmas holiday this year. Actually, we decided to take a break from meat altogether for a few meals. When I happened to mention this to my friend Griffin a few weeks ago, he made a joke about the Feast of Seven Fishes that his Italian-American, Catholic relatives have celebrated for years.
I was raised Catholic. I love Italian food. And food traditions. I studied in Rome for the fall semester, the one leading up to Christmas, my junior year of college, for crying out loud... How could I not have heard of this before my (almost) 35th year?!
There is, of course, a simple explanation: I do not know everything about food. Yet. But I am a tenacious researcher. And I decided, after reading up on the history and skimming the list of typical, fried Seven Fishes fare, that the Vincents would be departing from that menu quite drastically.
Our Christmas Eve dinner began in earnest with five of us sitting down before a small vat of my brother's now famous ceviche, this time made with shrimp and a white fish he knew only as "basa" (our first two of the seven fishes). Then came dad's also famous crabcakes (fish #3). Sure, there were some non-fish items -- my kale salad, for instance, or the platter of macaroons mom brought out -- but our feast was decidedly fishy. As mom and dad made their way to church on Christmas morning, I got working on our seafood-laden brunch. I warmed up a few pints of lobster bisque (fish #4) and got working on the rice, sweet potatoes, avocados, and other tasty fillings for our sushi luncheon: slicing up wild Atlantic salmon (#5) and part of a beautiful tuna steak (#6) along with the meticulous process of deveining, peeling, flattening,and steaming shrimp (#7 -- yes, I'm counting it twice, it was that much work!). Good thing little brother didn't get around to making a salad that day, as there was not even an inch of space in my belly for it after we cranked out roll after roll of fresh sushi, topped with wasabi and pickled ginger.*
I think this seafood themed holiday may have to become a tradition. Maybe next year oysters and snails will make an appearance.... Yum.
*Much as I love sushi -- and I do love it quite a bit -- my favorite part has always been the pickled ginger. What's that? You say you want to make your own pickled ginger? It's easy! Here's how:
Easy Pickled Ginger
Peel and thinly slice 1/2 lb fresh ginger (young, if you can find it) and toss with 1/2 tsp salt. Meanwhile, combine 3/4 cup rice vinegar with 1/2 cup brown sugar and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Simmer until sugar dissolves. Stuff ginger into a clean, heat-tolerant glass jar -- I used a wide-mouth pint jar -- and pour the sugar-vinegar mixture over it. Cool on the countertop, then cover and store in the fridge. It should be good for a few months. If you don't scarf it all in the first week.