Bring (seven) fish to your holiday table
As a child I wasn’t aware of the “seven fishes” eaten on Christmas Eve. All I knew is that I liked eating fish and we had a lot of it on Christmas Eve. We had fish because you had to fast (abstain from meat), just as you had to fast every Friday back then. This is what Italian Catholic families did. And, it is where eating “seven fishes” on Christmas Eve came from.
There are many theories why the tradition of “seven” fish came into being. Some say for the seven days it took to make the earth, others say it pays tribute to the last seven of the Ten Commandments, which relate to human interaction, and still others say it reminds us of the seven deadly sins. However, some in Italy do not have a tradition of seven fish but rather one of twelve fish (for the twelve apostles) or a thirteen fish tradition (for the twelve apostles plus one for Jesus). So no matter one fish or thirteen, many Italian families have the tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve.
What type of fish do people eat? My family often started with antipasto with anchovies (no meat), snail salad, fried smelts, baccala (dry cod fish preserved in salt that is soaked for days to get the salt out), stuffed squid in a red sauce over linguini, baked white fish (haddock, cod or hake), baked stuffed shrimp and stuffed quahogs.
As fishermen, it is nice to bring fish to our holiday table. Fishing is such a big part of our lives and is one of the few natural foods we can catch, clean, prepare and eat much the way people have for centuries.
Here are two fish recipes for the holidays.
Sandy’s tasty fish casserole
Sandy Ducharme of East Greenwich, RI is a great friend and great cook. She (and her husband Gerry) prepared a fish casserole for us this past weekend. Not a milky, gooey casserole but a lightly baked dish of rice pilaf, cod, sea scallops and jumbo shrimp. Sandy said, “It is a great recipe for entertaining because you can make it ahead of time and then just bake it prior to dinner.”
Ingredients (serves eight)
2 pounds of white fish (cod, haddock or hake)
16 sea scallops, two per person
16 large shrimp (uncooked), two per person
½ cup lemon juice
½ stick butter or margarine
½ to ¾ cup lemon pepper panko bread crumbs (Sandy uses Progresso)
2 packages Far East rice pilaf
½ cup parmesan cheese
Cook rice pilaf as directed on package and set aside. Melt butter and mix with bread crumbs and set aside. Coat fish and shrimp (not scallops) with lemon juice, set on paper towel and pat dry. Place half of cooked rice pilaf on the bottom of a 9” x 12” baking dish. Place white fish on top of rice, sprinkle half of the butter/bread crumbs and cheese over white fish, place sea scallops and shrimp on top, place remaining rice on top of scallops and shrimp then sprinkle remanding butter/bread crumb mixture and top off with remaining parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Sandy said, “When the shrimp turns pink it’s done.”
Captain Dave’s Linguini with white quahog sauce
½ cup virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic thinly sliced (or 4 teaspoons chopped garlic from jar)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley (plus four to five good pinches)
½ cup dry white wine
½ lemon juice
3 dozen (scrubbed) littleneck quahogs (1 ½ to 2 inches)
meat of 6 to 8 large quahogs cut-up and cleaned (optional)
1 pound linguini pasta
Scrub littleneck quahog shells thoroughly and put them aside. Cook linguine while making recipe. Heat extra virgin olive oil in heavy pasta pan over medium heat, cook garlic in oil until golden brown (about one minute). Add and stir in 1/3 cup chopped parsley and all the unopened little necks, let simmer for two minutes. Add wine and let simmer for one minute. Add lemon and the meat of six to eight large quahogs cut up and cleaned (extra quahog meat is optional; if I catch them I put them in). Add red pepper to taste. Cook for eight to ten minutes or until all quahogs are open. Discard quahogs that are not open. Lower heat and put in one pound of cooked linguini and toss the entire mixture, put into large pasta bowl, then garnish with four pinches of fresh parsley. (This recipe is a variation of one I first saw in the May, 2002 issue of Bon Appétit magazine by Lori Demori.)
Where’s the bite
Freshwater. Chris Catucci of Warwick, RI said, “The fall bass fishing bite reached its peak last week. My friend and I got about 20 bass each, fish seemed very aggressive and the best producing baits were white chatterbaits and chrome lipless crankbaits. The fish were in shallow water fattening up for winter. It was a great day at Warwick Lake.”
Cod fishing is picking up nicely. The East fishing grounds off Block Island continues to yield nice keeper cod fish (minimum size for cod is 22” with a ten fish/angler/day limit). RISAA anglers Rick Sustello and Dave Fewster fished the East fishing grounds Friday. Rick said, “We started hooking up immediately with cod and black sea bass and an occasional dog fish. Cod were 3:1 keeper to short. The cod were beautiful and fat. They were all gagging up crabs and small lobsters…we decided to anchor over (a hot spot) and try crabs, clams and Jigs… In total we caught 18 keeper Cod up to 15 lbs on jigs, crabs and clams and nine keeper black sea bass up to 4 lbs.” Mary Dangelo of Maridee Canvas, Bait & Tackle, Narragansett, RI said, “Shore angler customers are catching cod for shore, no keepers reported, but still this is a good sign.”
Blue fishing. Anglers along the southern coastal shore are reporting great action. Dave Garzolie said on the RISAA blog that he fished the Charlestown Breach way from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Dave said, “The primary baitfish appeared to be sea herring. I caught fish on almost every cast. I was throwing a 2 ounce pencil popper.”
Striped bass fishing is good along the shore. Mary Dangelo said, “I weighted in a 25 pound bass last week that was caught by a shore angler off Matunuck Beach.” John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, East Providence, RI said, “A customer caught nineteen keeper bass in the 30” range snagging and live lining menhaden under the I-195, I-way bridge at 2:30 a.m. on an incoming tide.” Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence said, “This Monday customers reported catching keeper bass at India Point Park (Providence) using surface plugs.”
Tautog. Captain John Sheriff said, “(This weekend) we fished for Tautog off Newport area reefs. Limits of keeper Tautog each day. Fished in 55 feet of water on Friday with excellent sea conditions for December. Fished in water up to 90 feet on Saturday which produced three nice keeper cod on crabs in addition to the limit of Tautog.”
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license, a charter fishing license, and is a member of the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council. Your fishing photos in JPEG from, stories, comments and questions are welcome… there’s more than one way to catch a fish. Visit Captain Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com ; his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.