If you're looking to add a new twist to your Christmas Eve dinner, look no further than the Feast of the Seven Fishes! This Italian tradition has been around for centuries and consists of serving seven different seafood dishes (or more!) on Christmas Eve - hence the name. It's a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends, enjoying delicious food while honoring long-standing traditions!
Seven different seafood dishes might sound like a lot of work, but don't worry, this feast isn't as daunting as it may seem! It's the perfect opportunity to show off your culinary skills and collaborate with family and friends.
With a little planning and organization, you can host your own Feast of the Seven Fishes and bring this beautiful Italian tradition to your own Christmas Eve table.
What is the Feast of the Seven Fishes?
The Feast of the Seven Fishes, or "La Vigilia," brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "seafood diet." As you might've guessed, the feast centers around not just one or two, but seven different seafood dishes.
This tradition originates from Southern Italy, where it's believed that abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve allows you to fully appreciate and focus on the true meaning of the holiday - the birth of Jesus Christ.
The number seven is said to represent the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, and eating seafood also serves as a form of fasting before indulging in a big Christmas meal the next day.
What began as a religious tradition has now turned into a foodie celebration eagerly awaited by both Italian and non-Italian seafood enthusiasts.
How my family hosts this holiday feast
Christmas Eve was always a big deal for my Sicilian side of the family. My grandfather, his brothers and most of my uncles all made their living as commercial fishermen, so our Feast of the Seven Fishes wasn't just about seven fishes. It was a whole lot more!
Each family member contributed their own special dish, and with my grandfather having 12 siblings, you can imagine the feast we had!
Now that I have my own family, I've started hosting Christmas Eve and don't make it to the big family gathering anymore. But I still keep the tradition alive by preparing our family's favorite seafood dishes each year.
Some years I mix things up to keep it interesting, but you can never go wrong with the classics.
Not everyone cooks exactly 7 specific seafood dishes for a 7 fishes dinner. It's really up to interpretation and can vary from family to family. What's a must-have at one Christmas Eve dinner may be unheard of at another.
In Italy, it varies from region to region, and in America, it varies from family to family. So, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to this tradition!
Sample dinner course menu for Feast of the 7 Fishes
A Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner party is meant to be relaxed and fun, so there's no need to be nervous or stress out.
I recommend serving this feast in courses instead of all at once. This will not only make your life easier, but it will also give you more time to enjoy each dish and appreciate the different flavors and textures.
To help you get started, here's an example of a menu you could use:
- Start your holiday dinner with a variety of cold appetizers. An antipasto platter and small finger foods always work well. You could also serve cold salads like insalata di mare (seafood salad) or insalata di pulpo (octopus salad), as well as raw oysters and clams.
- Then, follow up with some more substantial hot appetizers like fried calamari, fried smelts or frito mixto, crab cakes, and clams oreganata.
- Next is the pasta course! Keep it simple and plan for small portions since this is a big meal. Linguine alle Vongole is traditional, but so is lobster or shrimp fra Diavolo.
- Then, serve a main entree such as a seafood stew like cioppino, steamed clams or mussels, steamed or stuffed lobster, and baked, grilled, or sautéed fish.
- Always finish with dessert! Try my pignoli cookies or ricotta cheesecake.
24 Seven Fishes recipes to add to your Christmas table
If you've never hosted a Feast of the Seven Fishes before, it can seem overwhelming at first. Don't worry, though - I've got you covered!
As someone who has been hosting this feast for years, I'm sharing some of my favorite recipes that are sure to impress your guests and make your Christmas Eve dinner one to remember.
What's a feast without some delicious starters to kick things off? Here are a few of my go-to dishes that always get the party started:
Italian Baked Stuffed Clams Oreganata
This classic Italian dish is simple, flavorful, and oh-so-delicious. You can't go wrong with crispy breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, and lemon juice on top of freshly steamed clams.
Perfect Pan Seared Scallops
These seared scallops are quick and easy to make, yet they pack a ton of flavor. With a caramelized crust and a soft, buttery center, they're perfect for those who want something light before the main courses.
Easy Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Although not a traditional Italian dish, these crab cakes are always a hit at my Feast of the Seven Fishes. They're loaded with lump crab meat and seasoned to perfection, making them a real crowd-pleaser.
Now onto the main event - the seven fishes! Here are several seafood dishes that are sure to impress:
Linguine alle Vongole: Pasta with Clam Sauce
This simple pasta dish is a staple at any Feast of the Seven Fishes. Clams, garlic, white wine, and parsley come together to create a light yet flavorful sauce that pairs perfectly with al dente linguine.
Easy Baked Flounder Oreganata
Tender flounder fillets are generously topped with lemony, garlic-infused breadcrumbs and baked until crispy. Ready in under 30 minutes!
Baked Shrimp Scampi
This classic dish is always a crowd favorite. Plump, succulent shrimp are tossed with garlic, butter, white wine, and parsley to create a rich and flavorful sauce. Serve over pasta or with crusty bread for dipping.
Pasta with Olives, Anchovies, Tomatoes + Breadcrumbs
This easy pasta dish is made with olives, anchovies, garlic, and Parmesan breadcrumb topping. A great way to just dress up a weeknight dinner or add to your Seven Fishes celebration!
This hearty seafood stew is made with a variety of fish, shellfish, and aromatic vegetables in a rich tomato broth; it's perfect for colder weather.
Sicilian Baked Salmon
Tender, meaty fillets of wild Alaskan salmon brushed with dijon mustard and topped with garlicky panko breadcrumbs crust baked until golden brown!
Clams with Tomatoes, Basil, and Blue Cheese
The combination of sweet cherry tomatoes, earthy basil, and tangy blue cheese makes for an unexpectedly delicious pairing. Ready in 20 minutes!
Bonus recipes for your Italian feast
Besides the recipes I shared above, there are countless other seafood dishes you can add to your Feast of the Seven Fishes menu. Here are a few more ideas to get you started:
- Baccala: This salted cod dish may be an acquired taste for some, but it's a staple at many Feast of the Seven Fishes dinners. Serve it fried with a side of aioli or cooked in a flavorful tomato sauce.
- Octopus Salad: Tender, thinly sliced octopus is marinated in a garlicky lemon dressing and served over a bed of greens for a refreshing and flavorful appetizer. A delicious insalata di pulpo!
- Shrimp Cocktail: This classic appetizer is a must-have at any seafood feast. Simply poach the shrimp, chill them, and serve with homemade cocktail sauce. You can also steam them and serve them as peel-and-eat shrimp for a more hands-on option. (For a fun twist, check out this recipe for roasted shrimp cocktail with mustard sauce. )
- Fried Calamari: Crispy, fried calamari rings are always a hit with everyone - even picky eaters! Serve with lemon wedges and marinara sauce for dipping.
- Stuffed Squid: This dish may seem intimidating, but it's actually quite simple to make. Tender squid bodies are stuffed with a flavorful mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, and parsley and then simmered in a rich tomato sauce until tender.
- Fried Smelts: These tiny fish are a true delicacy in Italian cuisine. They're usually served whole and fried until crispy, then seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Non-seafood dinner options
Even though this dinner is traditionally centered around seafood, it's always nice to have a few non-seafood options for those who may not enjoy seafood or have dietary restrictions.
Here are a few ideas:
The Best Authentic Italian Sunday Gravy (Sugo)
This authentic recipe for Italian Sunday gravy, sauce, or sugo, as my family calls it - is a rich tradition that's been passed down through my Sicilian family for generations. It's a rich red sauce that gets simmered for hours with meatballs, Italian sausage, and melt-in-your-mouth pieces of tender slow cooked pork. It's traditionally served on Sundays, but this iconic Italian recipe is perfect for big family gatherings, special occasions or any night of the week.
The Best Crispy Chicken Parmesan Recipe
Our traditional Chicken Parmesan (or Chicken Parmigiana) is a classic dish featuring crispy panko-crusted chicken breast, lusciously melted fresh mozzarella, and a tangy homemade marinara sauce. Perfect for an affordable family dinner and ready in a little over an hour!
Authentic Italian Lasagna Alla Bolognese
This classic lasagna is made with alternating layers of tender pasta, hearty meat sauce, and creamy bechamel. Perfect for a cold winter night!
Incredible Baked Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
This delicious and creamy mac and cheese is gooey and cheesy macaroni and cheese with a buttery, crunchy top. It also has an entire head of cauliflower inside! Great vegetarian option.
Easy Baked Eggplant Parmesan
This is my mom's famous recipe for eggplant parm and it is both EASY and HEALTHY because it's baked NOT fried! The best eggplant parmesan recipe ever!
Easy Oven Roasted Whole Beef Tenderloin
If you're looking for a show-stopping main course that's sure to impress your guests, consider serving a whole roasted beef tenderloin. Simply seasoned with salt and pepper, this tender and juicy beef is delicious.
Dijon Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
This elegant and flavorful dish is perfect for a special occasion dinner. The lamb is coated in Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, and breadcrumbs before being roasted to perfection. Serve with roasted potatoes or your favorite side dishes!
Tips for success
- Create a cooking schedule and begin with items that can be made ahead or served chilled.
- Try to cook and prep as much as you can in advance. Be mindful when selecting recipes so that they don't need any last-minute or on-the-spot preparation, especially when feeding a large group of people.
- Lists, lists, and even MORE lists! They are key to keeping things in order when there's a lot going on. As you make your way down your list, check or cross them out as you finish to stay on track. It feels so satisfying!
- Lean on easy store-bought appetizers to feed your guests while you work on preparing the main courses. Buy ingredients to make an Italian antipasto, such as cured meats and cheeses, olives, roasted Italian peppers, dips, and spreads, along with your favorite crusty bread and crackers.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help or delegate tasks to your guests. Hosting a big feast can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be if you have some helping hands. Ask for their help prepping or adding the final touches. Or, delegate recipes and have everyone contribute a dish to the feast.
- Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the celebration! Hosting a Feast of the Seven Fishes is all about bringing people together for good food and great company. Embrace the chaos and cherish the memories that you'll make with your loved ones.
The traditional 7 fishes for Christmas Eve are:
- Calamari (squid)
Both! It is a traditional Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve, but it may have originated from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on certain holidays.
Over time, this feast has become more popular with people outside of these groups and is now celebrated by many different cultures around the world.
The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates back to the Roman Catholic Church's practice of abstaining from meat or dairy products on holy days. As a result, Italian families began cooking fish-based meals on Christmas Eve, leading to the creation of this feast.
Some say that the number seven is a symbol of perfection or completeness in biblical terms, which is why this feast has become customary for Italians to eat on Christmas Eve. Others believe that it represents the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Ultimately, whether it's considered good luck or not, one thing is for sure - this feast brings plenty of blessings through delicious food, and that's all the luck we need!
No feast would be complete without dessert! These two sweet treats are the perfect way to end your meal:
Pignoli Cookies: These traditional Italian cookies are made with almond paste and pine nuts. They have a slightly crunchy exterior and a chewy interior, making them the perfect accompaniment to coffee or tea.
Ricotta Cheesecake with Plums: A creamy and indulgent cheesecake made with ricotta cheese, topped with fresh plums for a festive touch. It's light, fluffy, and not too sweet - the perfect way to end your feast of the seven fishes dinner!
Did you make any of these recipes and LOVE it? Please leave a star ⭐️ rating and/or comment to help other readers. I absolutely love hearing from you and do my best to answer all questions and comments. I love seeing when you make my recipes, so please tag me @ColeyCooks on Instagram and I will repost!