Why seven fish on Christmas Eve?

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OK I admit it… I thought Italians had the corner on the tradition of seven fishes on Christmas Eve. Not necessarily so.

Czechoslovakians, Polish and Portuguese people have all celebrated Christmas Eve with fish. Erin Brigham, director of the Lane Center at the University of San Francisco, has taught theology there since 2008.

Dr. Brigham said, “A traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner boasts twelve dishes, one for each month of the year, and this feast generally starts with some kind of fish in horseradish sauce. The practice has as much to do with proximity to good fishing as with faith and tradition.”

In my family, the reason for “seven fish” on Christmas Eve dates back to the religious tradition in Italy of abstaining from eating meat on Christmas Eve. I have written about the tradition of the “seven fishes” during the holiday season before because all seem to be curious… why seven fish?

Some say the seven fish tradition is 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 12 fish (for the 12 apostles) or a 13-fish tradition (for the 12 apostles plus one for Jesus).

As a fisherman, it’s nice to bring fish to the holiday table. Fish and fishing are such a big part of our lives and it is one of the few natural foods we can catch, clean, prepare and eat much the way people have for centuries.

So, I like to eat and serve fish at Christmastime to honor the tradition of fish.

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.

Here is one of my favorite fish recipes that I have shared before, but people say they enjoy it so much that I thought I would share it again. It uses cod fish, a species that recreational anglers are now catching during the holiday season as well as scallops and shrimp. I call it Sandy’s Tasty Fish Casserole, named after my good friend, Sandy Ducharme, who has opened her home to me and others before, during and after the holidays.

Sandy’s tasty fish casserole

This is 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-inch-by-12-inch 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 at 350 degrees.

Sandy said, “When the shrimp turns pink, it’s done.”

Rocky Point guided hike tour on New Year’s Day

Looking for something to do with the family on New Year’s Day… how about a guided hike/tour of Rocky Point in Warwick being held as part of a National ‘First Day Hikes” event. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is hosting the guided hike of Rocky Point State Park. The two-mile tour is part of the sixth annual First Day Hikes event organized by the National Association of State Park Directors and will explore Rhode Island’s newest coastal state park. Participants should meet in the parking lot across from 415 Palmer Ave., Sunday, Jan. 1 at noon. Registration is encouraged but not required. For more information or to register, contact Felicia Celeberto at Felicia.celeberto@dem.ri.gov.

Where’s the bite

Cod fishing

has been very good and it looks like saltwater anglers will be closing out the year with a strong cod bite that will carry over into January.

Mike Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly said, “We had an outstanding cod fishing bite at Shark’s Ledge last week with anglers limiting out and catching some nice black sea bass as well.”

Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “Quantity dominated the boat on Sunday's trip with many limit catches while on Wednesday of last week quality dominated with many of the cod fish taken in the teens. Some decent numbers of black sea bass in the mix with some big choggies, nice-size mackerel and some good-size sea flounder. Tremendous amounts of bait on the grounds and both jigs and fresh-shucked shell baits have been producing well.”

Party boats sailing for cod fish at this time include the Frances Fleet at www.francesfleet.com, the Seven B’s (with Capt. Andy Dangelo at the helm) at www.sevenbs.com and the Island Current at www.islandcurrent.com .

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at dmontifish@verizon.net or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.

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