The Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes (il cenone della vigilia, in Italian), is traditionally served on Christmas Eve, in the home, and the absence of meat is meant to represent a sacrifice as one reflects on the meaning of the coming celebration. The appeal of a Seven Fishes feast lies in its infinite adaptability: The host can pick and choose among favorite seafood preparations, limited only by what's readily available. In fact, elements of a seven fishes feast can work equally well for any of the myriad entertaining opportunities presented by the winter holiday season.
To help you plan a Seven Fishes feast, we asked chefs from New York, Miami and Sonoma, Calif., to share some of their favorite seafood recipes with us. You can serve them buffet-style or plated, and round out the offerings with crab or clam chowder, oyster stew, pan-roasted lobster, and simple preparations for oysters on the half-shell. To drink, go traditional with a juicy, fruity, aromatic Italian Pinot Grigio as a foil to briny seafood, or a California or Washington Sauvignon Blanc, which also delivers enough fruit and acidity to stand up to a buttery seafood sauce, along with the aromatic qualities that make it a go-to shellfish companion.
Recipe courtesy of chef Timon Balloo, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Miami
"I love seared scallops," says Timon Balloo, a veteran Miami chef who has been at the helm of Sugarcane since its 2010 debut. "They are plump and juicy, light and decadent all at once. This dish can be served as an appetizer or an entrée and is perfectly paired with Sauvignon Blanc." If you're pressed for time or wish to maintain the traditional no-meat stance of the Seven Fishes feast, you may omit the beef marmalade.
• 4 beef cheeks, trimmed
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
• 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
• 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
• 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled
• 6 cups veal stock
• 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into approximately 2-inch pieces
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 4 cups orange juice
• 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 16 U10 dry scallops
1. Preheat the oven to 300° F.
2. Season the beef cheeks well with salt and pepper. In a stovetop-safe roasting pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the canola oil until it is just smoking, then sear the beef cheeks until golden brown on all sides. Add the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil and transfer to the oven to cook for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until meat is very tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Set the meat aside and strain the braising liquid into a clean pot. Reduce the sauce until it coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste. Cut the cooled meat into cubes and reserve it in the sauce. If chilling overnight, remove the cap of fat that rises to the top before reheating and serving.
3. In a medium pan, combine the squash, honey, orange juice and five spice powder and stir well to combine. Bring to a high simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool for 10 minutes, and carefully puree the mixture, using a blender or immersion blender. Slowly drizzle in the oil as you puree. Season as desired with salt and pepper. Keep sauce warm until ready to serve.
4. In a large sauté pan, or working in batches to avoid overcrowding, heat the remaining tablespoon of canola oil until just smoking. Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper and sear on both sides in the hot oil until golden brown.
5. To serve, line the bottom of a serving plate or individual plates with the hot squash puree. Arrange the scallops on the plate, then top with the hot beef marmalade. Serves 8 as part of a buffet or seven fishes feast.
Recipe courtesy of chef Kevin Adey, Northeast Kingdom, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Chef Kevin Adey employs flawless technique, learned and perfected at Le Bernardin, in the kitchen at Northeast Kingdom, where seasonality and a farm-to-table ethos rule. His exquisitely flavorful octopus dish can stand on its own, or works well tossed with chunky pasta or cubed and boiled new potatoes.
• 2 cups white wine
• 20 baby octopus, cleaned
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
• 3 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
• 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 3 sprigs thyme
• 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, cold
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 teaspoons squid ink
1. In a small saucepan, heat the wine until it boils and continue to cook over medium-high heat until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Set aside.
2. In a dry sauté pan, sear the clean octopus, suction cups down, until they turn a nice dark maroon. Remove the octopus, and any juices that have leached out, to a plate or shallow bowl.
3. In a separate pan, heat the canola oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook over low heat until translucent and soft, but not browned. Add the butter to melt, then whisk in the flour to make a small roux. Continue to cook one to two minutes, to cook off the raw flour taste. Whisk in the cold stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the thyme, reduced wine, octopus and any juices. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the octopus is tender.
4. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the octopus from the liquid and set aside. Whisk in the squid ink, then taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if desired. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve and return the octopus to the sauce. Serve hot or warm. Serves 8 as part of a buffet or seven fishes feast.
Recipe courtesy of chef Bruno Tison, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Sonoma, Calif.
This is a classic shrimp risotto from Bruno Tison, who was the executive chef at New York's Plaza Hotel before heading west to the Fairmont in 2003. This risotto can be served family style, but if you plan to plate it individually, Tison suggests garnishing each serving with one perfectly poached shrimp and a single small basil leaf for an elegant effect.
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
• Pinch of saffron threads, crushed
• 8 ounces arborio rice
• 1 cup white wine
• 1 1/2 quarts shrimp stock
• 1 pound 16-20 shrimp, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 4 ounces butter
• 4 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• 2 medium plum tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 4 small sprigs basil
1. In a braising pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then stir in the onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the rice and saffron, and stir well to coat the rice with the oil. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is semi-translucent.
2. Stir in the wine and continue to cook and stir until the wine has been completely absorbed by the rice.
3. Start adding the shrimp stock, about a cup at a time, and continue to stir until it is absorbed, at which point, stir in another cup. After the fourth cup has been absorbed, add the shrimp and continue to stir and add stock as needed until the rice is cooked through.
4. Once the rice is cooked through, add the butter, Parmigiano and half of the tomatoes, folding continuously until the butter and cheese are melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the risotto in a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining tomatoes and the basil sprigs. Serves 8 as part of a buffet or seven fishes feast.
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