The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates, however, from Southern Italy, where it is known simply as The Vigil (La Vigilia).
The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of refraining from the consumption of meat on the eve of specific holy days. As no meat could be used on such days,
observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.
The most famous dish for Southern Italians is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà reflects customs in what were historically greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy, as well as seasonal factors. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.
Lisa DiFebo-Osias (owner and chef of the popular DiFebo’s restaurants in Bethany Beach and Rehboth Beach, Delaware) was in full prep mode when we joined her in the kitchen of the Bethany Beach location. Her family has hosted a huge Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve celebration for as long as she can recall featuring her family’s time-honored recipes which have been passed from generation to generation. It’s a time of family and friends where no one leaves hungry and the warmth, joy, and love of the holiday season are evident.
The fish entrées are robust, naturally, intensely flavored seafood dishes most of
which Lisa prepared with “family secret” recipes that she was understandably reluctant to share on camera. If you’re only a moderate liker of seafood, these may be off your favorite lists, though I found them delicious. Suffice to say, however, that with the exception of the baccalà (the main ingredient is salt preserved cod fish,) it was clear that the key to the success of these dishes is very fresh seafood (of which there was plenty in the kitchen the day we filmed).
Of the several different fish dishes that Lisa was preparing during our visit (all delicious by the way), the Calamari Rock Shrimp Salad was probably the lightest and easiest to prepare. Without giving any away trade secrets, I can say that the salad consisted simply – and for the most part – of fresh calamari, rock shrimp, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, celery, garlic, coarse salt, and pepper. There were a couple of other ingredients that I’ve purposely left out, but it’s easy to create your own version based upon what’s listed here.
My favorite part of the experience was listening to Lisa and her husband Jeff talk about the memories of great Feast Of The Seven Fishes celebrations from the past and witnessing their obvious excitement towards the one they were about to host and for the family, food-focused gatherings ahead. The DiFebo Osias family bound is strong and listening to their stories gave a special and heartwarming tone to the holiday.
By the end of the day’s shoot, Lisa and Jeff had enthusiastically invited me to attend their annual festival on Christmas Eve. I took them up on the invite and I can say quite honestly that I had a wonderful time. The food was spectacular of course, and as expected based upon Lisa and Jeff’s stories, there were family and friends everywhere. It was the perfect way to welcome the holiday. If I’m lucky enough to attend next year, I’ll see if I can sneak in the Coastal Cuisine crew…
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