The below article appeared in the December 20, 2013 issue of the Times Ledger. However, the person editing failed to mention the subject of the article leaving out two important paragraphs. Omitting them sounds as if I don't know what I'm talking about.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes (festa dei sette pesci), celebrated on Christmas Eve, also known as The Vigil (La Vigilia), is believed to have originated in Southern Italy and is not a known tradition in many parts of Italy. The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence which, in this case, meant refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products on the eve of specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.
Some Italian American families have been known to celebrate with 9, 11 or 13 different seafood dishes. At Fairway Market in Douglaston you will most likely view a sign reading, “Festa deiSette Pesci” with a list of seven suggestions: Baccala (Dried Cod) Fritte; Fried or Boiled Calamari; Baked Flounder; Boiled Whole Crab or Lobster; Sauteed Shrimp; Steamed Mussels; A Classic Spaghetti with Clams.
An availability of fresh seafood is not a problem, but what if some of your family members have an allergy toward shellfish? What is “out” and what is “in”?
The obvious “villains” are crustaceans such as: lobster, crabs, shrimp, prawns and crayfish. You can most likely add mollusks such as clams, oysters, mussels, conch (scungilli) and scallops. Not so obvious are squid (calamari) and octopus (polpo). What’s a host to do?
You can certainly find some fish markets in Queens. I recommend Fairway Market not only for their array and reputation but noticing that there is a purposely placed separation between the allergens and non-allergens. Make it a point to tell the person handling the seafood that you are purchasing fish for someone who is highly allergic to shellfish. If necessary, request that the gloves be changed.
Another option is that if you are just purchasing the non-allergens, you might want to shop at a kosher supermarket such as Aron’s Kissena Farms, 75-15 Kissena Blvd. or Seasons, 68-18 Main St. Any form of shellfish considered to be un-kosher.
The rest of your basic Fairway shopping needs is available as well. A preparation of a marina sauce using San Marzano tomatoes, a fish stock made with the fish bones and heads, fine quality pasta, olive oil, and produce such as lemons, garlic, onions, potatoes, parsley and basil are just some of the essentials.
Here is my idea for 10 fish dishes. 1. Fresh sardines are offered. Remove the head, tail and back bones. Drench in flour and fry. 2. and 3. Baked flounder filets and pan fried lemon sole filets are fabulous. 4. Bronzino is one of the best for stuffing. Buy it whole and have them scale, gut and remove the head and tail (Keep for the stock). 5. and 6. You can make great tasting fish balls from cod and salmon. Have them remove the salmon skin (stock) and grind the two fish adding mayo, Dijon mustard and Panko bread crumbs. Roll in small balls and fry. Use the fish balls in a pasta dish. 7. Fish and chips anyone? Whole red snappers are on display. They can do the fileting and you can keep…you know. 8. A different pasta dish using anchovy filets. 9. Grill or pan fry fresh tuna for an Italian style tuna salad. The fish stock will come in handy for sauces as well as a 10. Christmas Fish Soup.
Nobody says that you have to stick to everything done Italian style. Spruce it up with some smoked white fish and pickled herring for appetizers. I guess that makes 12. Mangia!