Here’s what we’re cooking up on Christmas Eve

I imagine today you’re busy preparing a special holiday meal — perhaps using some time-tested family recipes.

In our family, we like to enjoy some quality, local seafood on Christmas Eve. Of course, this delectable tradition stems from the Italian “Festa dei Sette Pesci” or “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

The Feast of the Seven Fishes actually dates back to the early Roman Catholic custom of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of certain holy days, including Christmas.

As for the number seven, it’s rooted in ancient times with ties to Catholic symbolism. In fact, the number seven appears more than 700 times in the Bible. There are seven sacraments, seven days of the Creation, and of course, the seven deadly sins.

In early 20th century America, the Feast of the Seven Fishes re-emerged and flourished as a way for Italian-American immigrant families — like my father’s — to rekindle their Christmas Eve traditions from the old country.

In fact, many Italian-American immigrants who settled in port cities — like Boston and my old hometown of Gloucester, MA — were fishermen. So, by preparing a seven-course seafood meal, it made them feel closer to home by celebrating this bounty of the sea.

Of course, in my house, we always put out an antipasto plate of giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and cheeses to nibble on while preparing the main meal. While it might seem counterproductive to snack before a meal, this simple dish is actually quite nutritious. Though typically ignored by so-called dietary experts, full-fat cheese is also a key part of the Mediterranean diet, which I consider the healthiest diet on the planet.

Then, after enjoying the cheese and a glass or two of wine, we dive right into the main meal of seven fishes. Each family’s tradition varies slightly, but offerings typically can include:

  • Baccalà (codfish)
  • Calamari (squid)
  • Fried smelts
  • Polpi (octopus) in tomato sauce
  • Scungilli (conch)
  • Shrimp
  • Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clam sauce)
  • Stuffed clams

I suggest getting your fish fresh from the seafood section of your favorite grocer. Or better yet — seek out a fresh fish market if you live near the coast.

And if making seven different dishes sounds like too much work for you on Christmas Eve, consider throwing just a few of your favorite types of seafood into one big pot to make one of my favorite meals, a traditional New England Seafood Boil.

As always, I suggest opting for fresh, wild-caught fish if you can. And stay away from canned fish as much as possible. Here are a few reasons why…

Heavy metals found hiding in cans

Consumer Labs recently analyzed omega-3 content and heavy metal contamination in 14 popular brands of canned tuna and salmon. And the total amounts of the essential omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, ranged anywhere from 45 to 1,200 mg per serving.

But as I reported in the June 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Why I’m upping my recommendations for this ‘controversial’ supplement”), 1,200 mg is the minimum daily amount you need to support heart health. (Not yet a newsletter subscriber? Become one today with one simple click.) So, you’re never going to get your needed doses of fish oil and omega-3s that way!

In the Consumer Labs study, canned salmon generally had more omega-3s than tuna. But still, I advise against eating it, as most types of canned salmon come from farms.

Worse yet, Consumer Labs found that 50 percent of canned fish products were contaminated with mercury and/or arsenic.

The most commonly contaminated product was canned albacore tuna. But, bottom line: avoid eating canned fish in excessive amounts.

And when you do eat it, opt for products shown to have more omega-3s and less contaminants. Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Extra Virgin Oil and Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon ranked highly in the Consumer Lab study.

In the end, whatever you decide to make today, what matters most is getting to spend some time around the table — and around the Christmas tree — with family and friends. And if you have a special meal you enjoy preparing every Christmas Eve, I’d love to hear about it at [email protected].


“Warning: Some Canned Tuna Low on Omega-3, High in Mercury” Newsmax ( 12/7/2018