The Christmas Eve Fish Dinner is, without a doubt, the most important, the most festive, the most family-friendly, the most warm and the most memorable of family gatherings. For me, Christmas Eve surpasses all other holidays, as important and charming as Easter Thanksgiving or even July 4th, nothing gets closer to the ineffable depth and richness of Christmas dinner offered a different table than all other holidays. 19659002] But before going any further, consider the name of this dinner. Among the Italians I interviewed, he called "Feast of Seven Fishes", for other families, including mine, it was simply the New Year's Eve fish dinner. Christmas. There was no specific number of fish involved. Carol Field & # 39; Celebrating Italy A thorough study of Italian holidays, notes that the Christmas dinner asks for fish, but makes no mention of the number of fish dishes. Moving my investigation on the Christmas dinner to Google Italy, I found that it is usually called "Il Cenone della Vigilia" (The big dinner the night before.) No Italian site that I've found mentioned the number of fish. I have the feeling that the notion of seven fish can be Italian-American and even here only among some families.
The next question I considered was the type of fish. Almost all the references I found and all the people I interviewed had many variations. Among most Italian sites, two fish appeared most often, the baccalà and the eel. Among the traditional Italian-Americans, the two most common dishes were baccalà (usually in a cold salad recipe) and fried smelt. In many younger and less traditionally Italian Italians, all the old fish were gone. The new fish dishes now included shrimp and fried fish and even fish sticks. Italo-Americans are not alone in modernization. It seems that even in Italy the younger generations recoil before the notion of fish such as eel.
While what is rightly called this dinner and what fish have to be presented seems to vary from area to area and from family to few things about fish dinner Christmas Eve, go unchallenged. The Christmas Eve dinner was the only dinner no one missed. The Christmas Eve fish dinner was with the patriarch or the matriarch. Every child and grandchild was present. The power of Italian Italian Christmas Eve dinner overwhelmed all other cultural influences. While the fish dinner may have been rooted in Italy, he extended his branches to include and embrace not only the non-Italians who married in the family, but all those of other ethnicities who were friends at home. the family. All those who had family connections were invited to the Christmas Eve fish dinner.
While all the other holiday dinners were gathering the family while there was still light in the sky, the Christmas dinner began sometime after sunset. It was and it is the only party dinner of the Italian-American tradition shared in the dark. All the other celebrations of the Italian-American tradition are celebrated at the table shortly after noon. The Christmas Eve fish dinner always started after six o'clock in the evening.
Christmas Eve's fish dinner differs from all other dinners in its lack of structure. Other dinners, whether Sunday or Easter Sunday follow a certain formality. For other dinners there is always a supper, antipasto, pasta, main course and then dessert. The Christmas Eve fish dinner was quite different. The Christmas Eve dinner had classes, but the dishes were not unique dishes. For the Christmas Eve fish dinner, each class consisted of several offerings. And all the dinner was preceded by a cold food table that allowed mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews to chat for an hour before dinner. The appetizers were placed on small tables in the living room. The trays included olives, slices of celery and broccoli and a dish of crackers. There were also shrimp plates cooked with shrimp cocktail sauce sides. The olives came from cans and the kids liked to slide the casks on their fingers while chewing the olives. I would imagine that shrimp and horseradish-based cocktail sauce were influenced by the fashionable restaurants of the time.
After an hour of nibbling on the side trays, the dinner bell called us to the tables. Yes, the tables. In our family there were three. In our downtown style home, the dining room table was facing the central hall. A second and third table have been added to the main table. The three tables continued through the central hall in the living room. The number of places was determined by age. The oldest was sitting in the dining room section; the younger the child, the closer he was to the living room.
There was no soup on Christmas Eve. When we sat at the table we first saw a small bowl of whiting salad with lemon and a portion of "scungilli", conch. When I was small there was a cold salad baccalà with tomato. These cold fish salads were followed by pasta. Of course, we have never heard or used the word "pasta". For us, the "pasta" dish was one of three possibilities. This has changed from year to year. It could be "clams and spaghetti", "mussels and spaghetti", or "squid and spaghetti". Spaghetti was still the very thin "angel hair" ("capellini.")
The next course is always a serving of several varieties of fried fish. My Irish mother has prepared several fish offers in different ways. There are three main courses. First, she made a platter of simple American fish sticks for kids and for those at the table of a heritage less than Italian. Then, as a middle ground, my mother makes the most exquisite crab cakes that would appeal to Italian traditionalists as well as non-Italian step-parents. For the elderly, there is always the most wonderful finger food, fried smelt with lemon. There are also fried scallops, fried shrimp, fried squid and fried oysters.
After the fried dishes, the table is covered with several trays of grilled scallop, shrimp and clams. Then comes the main fish platter. This tray has no Italian precedent that I know. My mother introduced this dish about thirty years ago: stuffed orange peel foil. The wrapper of the orange roughy is made by dividing the fish into two pieces and filling it with a layer of spinach with tomato, garlic and l '. olive oil. The fish is wrapped in parchment and baked.
After a break and an interlude of conversation, the Christmas dinner is crowned with the dish that everyone expects, my mother's Christmas cookies tray. We started at five in the evening. After the cookies, it is 11 o'clock. The Christmas Eve fish dinner ends with midnight mass. After midnight Christmas Mass, the family returns home for a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon. The breakfast was particularly nice with the Christmas bread, a delicious brioche pastry shaped ring and decorated with multicolored sequins. But Christmas bread is another page.