Christmas Eve, December 24th, is the last day of Advent. Because it is a penitential season, Christmas Eve Day has always been one of fasting. The fast is broken with Christmas Eve Communion during a candle lighting service. The rhythm seems strange, but Christian holidays always begin with the evening prior. So Christmas begins on Christmas Eve and All Saints begins on Halloween (All Saints Eve). This comes from the ancient Hebrew way of keeping time. The creation story in Genesis 1 lays out the pattern saying, “It was evening, it was morning; the first day.”
The ancient custom for the last seven days of Advent was to sing and pray the O Antiphons. They are introductory prayers to the Magnificat (Mary’s Prayer, From Luke 1) that call on Christ with different names. The names are: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring (dawn), O King of Nations, and O Emmanuel (God with us). These prayers were eventually used to write the verses to the most famous Advent hymn: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
For Christmas Eve, we recommend the coastal Italian tradition—The Feast of Seven Fishes. This tradition embraces the fasting practice. It is not a feast proper, but it is still festive. While not originally tied to the seven O Antiphons, we find that the seven seafood dishes are a great way of sharing the meaning of the heart of Advent and the longing for Christ.
Our family loves singing, so we like singing each of the seven verses as each of the seven platters of seafood are presented. In order, to serve so many different kinds of seafood, it is important to make as many of them easy. Anchovies and sardines and other easy seafood may help. Here are seven of our recommendations.
Pictured Above: A child stares into a candle during a traditional candlelight Christmas Eve service. Photo taken by Jeb Hunt at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, Florida.
Feast of Seven Fishes
1) Salad with Seared Tuna (Center Left) | 2) Potato Soup with Scallops (Bottom Left) | 3) Orzo with Feta and Shrimp (Top Left) | 4) Broiled Clams (Center) | 5) Can of Sardines (Bottom Center) | 6) Poached Cod with Tomatoes and Saffron (Bottom Right) | 7) Salmon Rillettes (Top Right)
Notes About Preparing a Feast of Seven Fishes
Planning what to make is the hardest part of preparing this feast. Our selection of recipes is meant to show you what a feast could look like, but feel free to use your own favorite seafood recipes. Make the feast as simple (or complicated) as you’d like and have time for. We chose to do an appetizer (Salmon Rillettes), salad (Salad with Seared Tuna), and soup (Potato Soup with Scallops) to start the feast. That was followed by a light pasta (Orza with Feta and Shrimp), and three other types of seafood prepared in a simple style (clams, cod, and sardines.) And we were only cooking our feast for 3 people, so we made smaller portions of each item and enjoyed them tapas style.
Salad with Seared Tuna
Seared Tuna is a wonderful addition and easy topper for a salad to start your feast. Choose your favorite leafy green, and the dressing of your choice, then add seared tuna which only takes a few minutes to prepare.
Instructions to Sear Tuna
- Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tuna and sear 1 – 2 minutes per side for rare to medium-rare, longer if desired.
- Transfer to cutting board, cut into slices, and add to your salad.
Orzo with Feta and Shrimp
Prep Time: 20 minutes | Makes 3 – 4 Small Portions
8 oz orzo pasta
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 yellow or red pepper, diced
1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
- Cook 8 oz Orzo pasta according to package directions.
- In a large bowl, toss pasta with bell pepper, tomato, olive, spinach, and feta.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice.
- Add shrimp to the olive oil/lemon juice mixture and toss to combine.
- Sauté in a hot skillet over medium-high heat until pink and opaque, about 4 – 5 minutes.
- Add cooked shrimp to the pasta and vegetable mixture.
- Drizzle with white balsamic vinegar and enjoy!
Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus time for purging clams (1 hour)
Fine sea salt
1 dozen clams
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and enough salt to mimic ocean water. Add the clams and let stand 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, discard purging water; and repeat the process two or three more times.
- Turn on your oven broiler and position the top rack 6 inches from the broiler element. In a 9-inch cast iron pan, add the olive oil and garlic. Broil for about 2 minutes, until the garlic is slightly browned.
- Add tomatoes and a large pinch of salt. Broil until the tomatoes start to burst, about 4 minutes.
- Add the purged clams to the pan. Pour in the white wine and add the butter. Broil for 2 minutes and then flip the clams. Once all the clams have popped wide open, about 2 minutes longer, they should be almost done. Broil for 1 additional minute after the last clam opens, then remove.
Potato Soup with Scallops
Prep Time: 30 minutes
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 cup of creme fraiche or sour cream
2 medium leeks (white and tender green parts only), chopped
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and diced
Extra virgin Olive Oil
1 small fennel bulb
4 cups chicken stock
Large sea scallops (as many as desired)
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon of butter
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, fennel and Old Bay seasoning, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the potatoes and carefully pour in the 4 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
- Puree soup directly in pot with an immersion blender.
- Stir in creme fraiche or sour cream. Season with Old Bay seasoning, to taste. Keep warm over low heat while preparing scallops.
- Pat scallops dry with paper towels. Season both sides with Old Bay and pepper, then dust with flour.
- In a large nonstick skillet melt 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium high heat. When hot, add scallops to skillet. Cook scallops until edges are well browned, about 2 – 3 minutes.
- Flip scallops and cook on the other side for an addition 2 – 3 minutes.
- Drizzle with oil and serve immediately over the potato soup.
A can of sardines is an easy way to add an extra dish to your feast and reduce the amount of work preparing seven dishes. Other easy options to consider:
- Adding anchovies to a Caesar salad
- Buying a pre-made seafood salad at the grocery store
- Buying cooked shrimp and serving it with cocktail sauce as an appetizer.
Poached Cod with Tomatoes and Saffron
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Skinless cod fillets
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 (14.5 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
Pinch of saffron threads
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper
2 bay leaves
- Heat the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the 2 sliced garlic clovesand crushed chili pepper until soft and fragrant, just a few minutes.
- Drain the can of whole peeled tomatoes. Then, one by one, crush each tomato in you hands and place in separate bowl. (It is best to do this over the sink because the tomatoes tend to explode with juice when you do this.) Then add the bowl of hand-crushed tomatoes to the skillet.
- Add the 1/4 cup dry white wine, pinch of saffron threads, 1/2 cup of water, and salt and pepper to season. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, allowing it to simmer for 5 – 7 minutes.
- Pat the skinless cod fillets dry and then season with salt and pepper on each side. Add the cod to the tomato mixture in the skillet, cover, and cook until the cod is opaque throughout 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how thick the pieces are.
- Serve on a plate with the poaching liquid.
Prep Time: 30 minutes | Chill Time: 2 hours | Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless salmon fillets
1 medium onion or leek, halved
1 large celery stalk
1 bay leaf
2 oz unsalted butter
1/4 cup shallot, diced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper
Crackers (for serving)
- In a large saucepan combine salmon with enough cold water to cover by one inch. Add the juice from one lemon, the halved onion, celery, and a bay leaf. Set over medium heat and bring the liquid mixture to 170F (use an instant read thermometer if you have one). Adjust heat to maintain water temperature.
- Cook the salmon in the poaching liquid for about 5 – 8 minutes. Remove the salmon, place in a bowl and shred with your fingers. The salmon should shred very easily when cooked long enough.
- In a small skillet, melt the 2 oz unsalted butter over medium heat, then add the diced 1/4 cup of shallot, stir, and cook until softened for about 2 – 3 minutes. Add the butter and shallot mixture to the bowl with the salmon.
- Add mayonnaise, chives and juice from the second lemon, coriander seed, and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Stir ingredients to mix together for a few minutes until the salmon is finely shredded and thoroughly mixed with all the ingredients.
- Place the mixture in a serving bowl, packing it tightly using a spoon, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
- Serve as an appetizer, with crackers.