All about the Feast of the Seven Fishes
Italian traditions are largely religious, chef Cesare Casella tells me. And the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a Christmas Eve mainstay in Italian culture where fish is served across multiple courses, is no different.
"To eat the fish was a sign that you respected the church," says Casella, a native of Lucca, Italy and the Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center in New York City. Casella is the Executive Chef and Partner at Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, which has restaurants on both the Upper East and West Sides.
Across the city this season, the feast is being offered to the religious and non-religious alike. Indeed, in this pan-religious metropolis, everyone eats what they want, where they want. And chefs like Casella are prepared to show off their talents for anyone who books a table.
Eating seafood on Christmas Eve comes from the Roman Catholic tradition of refraining from the consumption of meat on certain days of the week, on the eve of some holy days and during Lent, which generally lasts for the six weeks before Easter.
The feast traditionally includes seven dishes, but there are "no rules," according to Casella. For you cooks who want to prepare the Feast at home, this is good news. Any type of fish and any kind of preparation is fair game.
While Casella said he tries to use ingredients that keep the feast traditional, (the most famous is baccalà, or salted cod fish,) it's really up to each chef to decide what to make.
For example, a special type of eel is required for the dish Capitone, but Casella is using mackarel instead. And Italy is hardly synonymous with oysters, but Casella is serving them at his Feast.
"The oyster is festive," he said. "It's the holiday. It's an event. You get it once a year. You want to make sure your guests are happy."
The restaurants we've listed all have availability on Christmas Eve, but call soon to make a reservation.
Enjoy the Feast of the Seven Fishes at one of these restaurants:
SALUMERIA ROSI PARMACOTTO, II RISTORANTE 903 Madison Ave., 212-517-7700
$100 Prix Fixe/ A la carte items are also available. The feast includes: oysters, branzino, Spanish mackerel.
SIRIO RISORANTE, 795 Fifth Ave., 212-940-8195
$85 Prix Fixe/ Limited a la carte items are also available. The feast includes: calamari, cod, lobster, seabass. Also served Christmas Day.
LIL' FRANKIE'S, 19 First Ave., 212-420-4900. FRANK, 88 Second Ave., 212-420-0106. SAUCE, 78-84 Rivington St., 212-420-7700. SUPPER, 156 East 2nd St., 212-477-7600
Three dishes for $32.95/ five for $52.95/ seven for $72.95/ Any dish a la carte. Options include: octopus, black cuttlefish, salmon, baby clams.
I TRULLI RISTORANTE/ENOTECA, 122 East 27th St., 212-481-7372
$65 Prix Fixe. The feast includes: sea scallops, oysters, peeky toe crab, wild stripped bass. Served every night through Christmas Eve.
SD26, 19 East 26th St., 212-265-5959
$90 Prix Fixe. The feast includes: freshwater eel, mussels, red shrimp ceviche, mixed grill of shellfish and fish.
HEARTH, 403 East 12th St., 646-602-1300
$88 Prix Fixe. The feast includes: octopus, black bass, clams, calamari.
GIARDINO'S AT RUSSO'S BY THE BAY, 44-37 Douglaston Parkway, Douglaston, Queens, 718-428-1090
$49 Prix Fixe/ kids menu also available. The Feast includes: baccalà, lobster ($15 extra), sole, scungelli.
SAUL RESTAURANT, 140 Smith St., Boerum Hill, 718-935-9842
$100 Prix Fixe/ optional $45 extra for wine pairings. The feast includes (subject to change): scallops, octopus, baccalà, monkfish.
BAMONTE'S, 32 Withers St., Williamsburg, 718-384-8831
Open since 1900, Bamonte's is serving everything on their menu a la carte, and specials will include baccalà, calamari and fresh eels.