I always get sentimental around this time of year when talking to people about Christmas Eve stories and family food-filled traditions. For centuries, Italians and Italian – Americans have prepared the Seven Fish Dinner on Christmas Eve, December 24th. My family being one of them.
“The Vigil” or “La Viglia” which derives from Southern Italy is an Italian-American tradition (and celebration) on Christmas Eve.
“The table has always served as a symbol of togetherness, the place where we celebrate our loved ones through the generations – old tradition of sharing a meal.”
It is a time where everyone gathers together and shares “La Vigilia, The Seven Fish.” There are variations in theories as to where the Feast derived from especially in relation to the number 7 and what it represents.
Seven to this day is still my lucky number, I’m not certain if it has to do with “La Viglia” but it is also the day I was born, the 7th of December, “Il sette di dicembre.”
Italian-American homes on Christmas Eve are filled with fish aroma and hours of preparation in anticipation to serve seven different types of fish. Throughout the years, different households have grown in fish spectacular wonderland serving nine, ten, or even eleven various types of seafood and fish plates all served in light of the Seven Fish Dinner Celebration. The common thread is “La Viglia” represents togetherness, enjoying a meal together at a table with family and friends, savoring the Seven Fish. Conversation and stories shared. (No meat is generally served).
Popular and Traditional Fish Dishes Include:
Baccala’, (salted cod) Baked Cod, Fried Smelts, Calamari (also a Rhode Island, Ocean State favorite and staple calamaRI!), deep fried cod, octopus salad, shrimp, seafood salad, fish sole “sole meunière”, fried eel, baked eel (which you may be surprised by baked eel however this is very common in many Italian homes), oyster shooters, scallops (deep fried or baked), Quahogs, Lobsters (boiled or broiled), Linguine with anchovy, tuna, crab, clam sauce (marinara sauce) … and the list is endless! Even clownfish! There are various ways to prepare, savor, serve and enjoy.
How To Prepare Baccalà:
- When at the fish market or grocery store, select a piece of baccalà where the meat should be close to white and the skin light colored. Stay away from meat with a yellow tone.
- If the fish is sold whole, buy a long, thick fish; it should be one-inch thick in the middle of the filet. Remove any fins if on the piece of fish. Skin should be left on.
- This fish has been salted so will be dried out and salted when you buy it. The goal is to rehydrate it and make it tender, salty but not too salty.
- Cut your baccalà into large pieces (chunks). This will help cook the fish better. It will appear tough to cut through – that is okay.
- At least two days before, three is even better, begin soaking your salted baccalà in water (for at least 48 hours) this will rehydrate the fish and make it less salty. First wash the pieces thoroughly, eliminating all the salt on the surface, and then completely soak in a bowl or container that will hold a lot of water. It is wise to change the water three of four times a day. The baccalà should be kept in a cool place while it is soaking, you can refrigerate it, but it is not necessary. In old times, centuries ago, they would not not refrigerate it but store in a cool place.
- Just before cooking, peel away the skin and remove any bones that appear.
Now go ahead and pick your lucky Seven for next year’s 2015 Christmas Eve and Have a Happy Baccalà! Fa La La La Laaaa !
Peace. Love. Gelato,