December 23, 2020. Just by coincidence, I’ve been posting a lot of Italian-American inspired recipes for the holidays, so it’s fitting I end the year with a favorite. I just love the Feast of the 7 Fishes, traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve. Our family started to enjoy this celebration years ago on Christmas Day when we lived near the ocean. We continued it for many years after that, but it was a lot of cooking for one person (me) and then, when I added the Feast of 7 Vegetables for Vegetarian Daughter, you can just imagine! With all that cooking, it’s been a few years since we’ve enjoyed more than just a few fish on Christmas Day. That was until this year when it dawned on me that I could simplify and improve my life by adding all 7 fish to 1 dish! BTW- you need to go right to the Dad Joke in Cook and Play because he’s a beauty! I’ll wait……. OK, you’re back- also, in spite of the long list of ingredients, which is understandable when you’re trying to get 7 fish into one dish, this recipe is very simple, with a 3-step process and a relatively quick cooking time given the flavor it delivers. Also, feel free to use whatever type of fish you like- just adjust the cooking times accordingly.
Certainly, this dish is spectacular as written, but if you have the time and want to “kick it up a notch” or three, as one of our national cooking treasures says, take a look at the “Make It Better” section in The Lecture below. There are instructions there on how to improve your broth, seafood and garnish.
Of course, there’s a vegetarian option, that’s actually a vegan, option for Vegetarian Daughter, so she can join in on the celebration. Simply use the same aromatic base from the fish recipe (without the anchovies, of course), add in wine and then two cups of vegetable broth with the tomatoes, a few cups of white beans and enough vegetables to get to 7 for a Feast of the 7 Vegetables In a Bowl. Technically, there are already 7 vegetables in the recipe (onion, fennel, celery, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, parsley), but who would blame you if you wanted to add a few more substantial veggies- like some cauliflower florets, zucchini, yellow squash, or even Granny’s Potato Pancakes!
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 or more pinches of red pepper flakes, to taste
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 medium fennel bulb, minced, fronds reserved for garnish
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 4-6 anchovies with oil or 2-3 teaspoons anchovy paste- Fish #1!
- 3-5 cloves of garlic, grated with a microplane (about one tablespoon)
- Broth (Make it Better- See Enhancement #1 below)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, crushed with your clean, bare hands or other crushing device
- 2 cups Clam Broth Hack- an 8 ounce bottle of clam juice mixed with 8 ounces of unsalted chicken or vegetable broth or 2 cups of broth made from a clam broth base— Fish #2!
- Fish 3-7 (Make it Better- See Enhancement #2 below)
- 1 1/2 pounds cod, cut into several pieces and seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper- Fish #3!
- 1 pounds mussels, PEI if you can find them, cleaned and debearded- Fish #4!
- 1/2 pound large sea scallops, seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper- Fish #5!
- 1 pound raw, shell on shrimp, peeled and deveined (or look for shrimp that have been deveined to save time) and seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper- Fish #6!
- 8 ounce crab meat of your choice- Fish #7!
- Season & Garnish (Make it Better- See Enhancement #3 below)
- 1-2 squeezes of lemon juice or to taste
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- reserved fennel fronds
- freshly parsley, minced to taste
COOK AND PLAY
This musical suggestion is such a good Dad Joke! While you get to your cookin’, you have to play Gumbo by Phish– you see how this is both, another “Phish”, and a seafood stew (Gumbo!)- I am crying over this Dad Joke! Also, a shout out to the UVM Peeps for Phish!
- Sweat Those Aromatics. Preheat a large Dutch Oven or Stew Pot, with canola oil, over medium heat. Sauté onions with salt and red pepper flakes for a few minutes; then add fennel, celery and anchovies and cook until vegetables are softened, but before it all starts to brown, 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic, just at the end, about a minute, before moving on to the next step.
- Go Fish! Add wine to Stew Pot and simmer until most of it evaporates and then add in clam broth and tomatoes. Let the broth simmer and slightly thicken for 15-20 minutes and then add the fish in order of cooking times, from slowest to fastest- cod (7-10 minutes), mussels (4-5 minutes) and shrimp and scallops (a minutes or two). Turn off heat, stir in crabmeat and cover for about 3-4 minutes to warm crab and to finish cooking everything.
- Taste, Season & Garnish. Once your seafood is happily cooked and swimming in a luscious stew, taste everything for final seasoning with lemon, salt, pepper and parsley and garnish with fennel fronds. Some garlic toast on the side, which has never been mentioned before this, would be nice for next time!
Make It Better.
Enhancement #1. Bangin’ Broth. You can easily make the calm broth in this recipe a lot better by browning the shrimp and crab shells from the recipe in a big pot and then adding your clam broth to simmer for about 20 minutes before you strain out the shells and while you prep your aromatics for the stew. If you have a lot of leftover shellfish shells (if you’re wondering why you would have leftover shells, keep reading), you won’t even need clam broth and can simply use water to make the broth. You’ll need about a pound of shells per quart of broth if using water. As for why you would have leftover shells- it’s because whenever you have shrimp, crab, lobster (even if it’s cooked), which is often the case for the holidays, you can collect the shells in large plastic bags to freeze until you’re ready to make the broth.
Enhancement #2. Feel and Taste The Sear. Let’s face it, seared scallops and shrimp look and taste better, so why not sear these on the side and add them to the stew for serving. Just set up a large, non stick fry pan next to your Stew Pot, dry scallops and shrimp off with a kitchen or paper towel, preheat a tablespoon each of unsalted butter and canola oil over high heat and sear scallops for a few minutes on each side, until nicely golden brown. No need to clean out the pan for the shrimp, unless the oil/butter looks too dark, so sear the shrimp the same way once the scallops are done. You can even cook the Granny Potato Pancakes below after that, if you plan to add them as a garnish. Keep in mind that the scallops and shrimp cook quickly and you probably don’t want them to overcook, so as soon as you get a nice sear on each side, get them right out onto a plate- remember they will cook more in the hot stew. When they are perfectly done, you want them firm, but still with a little give. If medium rare seafood makes you squeamish or you have health concerns, no worries about cooking longer- it’s your food after all.
Enhancement #3 (#1 Vegan). Granny’s Potato Pancakes. Ironically, Granny never made pancakes for breakfast (that was Gramps’ weekend domaine), but Granny did, on occasion, make a magical, savory pancake from leftover mashed potatoes. Potatoes are a perfect compliment to a fish stew (think chowder) and who doesn’t have leftover mashed potatoes lying around during the holidays!
This pancakes couldn’t be simpler- for each serving, just take about a 1/4 cup or so of mashed potatoes and mold them into cakes with a round cookie cutter or go rustic and use your clean hands. Fry those cakes up in a hot, non stick pan with a tablespoon each of unsalted butter and canola oil until they’re heated through and crispy, golden brown on both sides. Be sure to leave the first side of the cake alone for 3-4 minutes so the crust can set up and then use a thin spatula to carefully flip for a few more minutes on the other side until you have an amazing creation. Dad Tip- you can also use a little less mash and shape it to look like scallops and won’t that be fun to add as a garnish to a fish or vegan stew!
Keyword: fish, seafood, shellfish, vegetarian/vegan option, stews, big pot meals, one pot wonders, celebrations, Granny Classic
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