Feast of the Seven Fishes. Festa dei Sette Pesci. Cena della Vigilia.
There’s more than one name for the Italian-American seafood feast celebrated on Christmas Eve. Its exact origins are up for debate, though some believe Southern Italians laid the foundation for the tradition after immigrating to the United States. Like most celebrations della famiglia, there are many ways to celebrate. Some call for seven fish, others call for seven courses. But all feasts of this variety involve at least one common denominator of delicious seafood.
This year, we decided to talk to a few chefs and restaurateurs about their favorite memories and dishes associated with the almighty Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Osteria Via Stato
“I have wonderful childhood memories of my grandfather preparing the Feast of the Seven Fishes every Christmas Eve,” says chef David DiGregorio. He has the intel on why the feast calls for seven fishes specifically. “Named for the seven hills of the eternal city, Rome, this abundant meal perfectly captures the spirit of Italy with dish after dish of incredible seafood from around the country. It was a holiday tradition, centered around food and family, that we celebrated and looked forward to every year. For me, it is all about nostalgia and family.”
This year chef DiGregorio is preparing Rhode Island calamari with hot cherry peppers, grilled octopus, and baccala (salt cod spread) to start the meal. Main course options include seafood stew, seafood linguine, and pan-roasted Faroe Islands salmon. Add on the Sicilian-style batched Old Fashioned.
“I know that the Seven Fishes Dinner at Osteria Via Stato has become a tradition for many of our regular guests,” says DiGregorio, “and we’re looking forward to sharing it with even more people this year.”
Chef Amy Brandwein fondly remembers gathering late on Christmas Eve with friends and family over delicious calamari and linguine with clams. “We all need something to celebrate,” she says. “This evening is a time when our staff loves to express hospitality and warmth.”
This year, they’re doing so with a take-and-bake feast. The menu features whipped cod, yellowfin crudo, octopus ragu, Tuscan-style seafood stew, and salt-baked branzino, which is the dish chef Brandwein is most excited about. You simply bake it in the oven with Sicilian herbs and extra virgin olive oil and the results are delicious.
Dessert is cartellate, a fried Puglian pastry drenched in chocolate sauce.
Jax Fish House
Kansas City, MO - Multiple Locations in Colorado
Jax Fish House began their Feast of the Seven Fishes tradition back in 2011 in Fort Collins, Colorado. “It was a delightfully tiny gathering of only a few tables, most of which had never participated,” says Director of Operations, Adam Reed. In recent years (though not this year), the restaurant bursts at the seams. And while every year is centered around gratitude and togetherness, this year’s celebration holds more weight to it.
“I recall my Granddaddy saying grace at the table prior to the meal and we were called to be reminded of all those who cared for us and depended on us to care for them,” says Reed. “This year, the strength of our hospitality teams has kept our businesses running. They are the reason we are still able to share this feast with our treasured guests.”
Even though this year’s feast is to-go, it’s still filled with hospitable touches, including detailed instructions and an accompanying Spotify playlist. There’s frutti di mare, bagna càuda, stone clams, and sweet potato gnocchi. The salt-crusted bass is a particularly special treat. “In the end,” says Reed, “opening the salt crust is like opening a present for Christmas.”
Napoli Pasta Bar
First-time restaurant owner, Antonio Ferraro, came to the United States from Vico Equense, a city of Naples, Italy, in 2006. “Christmas Eve is very big in Italy,” he says, “especially in the southern region where I’m from. In Naples, it’s one of the most celebrated holidays with food as the main attraction. I recall lots of memories with my family.”
Now Ferraro is drawing on his memories at Napoli Pasta Bar, this year with a special ready-to-cook feast of octopus salad, cod and crab fritters, fresh rigatoni with calamari, shrimp, and mussels, swordfish wrapped in eggplant, and panettone, the classic Italian sweet bread.
“We have the opportunity to celebrate and recreate here what we usually do in Italy, without the stress of shopping for the food,” adds Ferraro. When asked which dish he’s most excited about, Ferraro says, “The pasta, of course. Homemade pasta with fresh seafood has always been my favorite.”
Masseria is a celebration of the big, harmonious Italian flavors that chef Nicholas Stefanelli grew up on in suburban Maryland. This time of year is a nostalgic reminder of the times he spent with family, gathering around the table and preparing for Christmas Day. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a meal Stefanelli shared with his parents and siblings to honor their Puglian roots.
This year, Masseria is offering the feast in the dining room and beneath the pergola, or portioned for two to-go. “The holiday season is always a great time in hospitality to celebrate with guests,” says Stefanelli. “It is even more meaningful this year because of all of the challenges restaurants have had to face in the last nine months. To still be able to celebrate through delivery and takeout or dine-in is special.”
The menu will highlight Catalina sea urchin, golden osetra caviar, and Perigord black truffles. Chef Nicholas is most looking forward to serving eel with onions and red wine vinegar (this one is available for dine-in only). If you order to-go, add some Italian amaro to finish off your meal.
The il Porcellino team is especially looking forward to this year’s Feast of Seven Fishes celebration. “In a year that has been trying for everyone, it is now more important than ever to make our holiday celebrations special,” says the team. “For some, that will mean keeping up with their beloved traditions, while for others, it will mean creating new ones that will become a yearly holiday celebration staple.”
This approachable seafood feast is comprised of ultimate Italian comfort food, which is just the thing il Porcellino does best. It features seafood salad, shrimp piccata, mussels in a spicy red sauce, linguini & clams, and Sicilian branzino. And for dessert? Chocolate peppermint cake.
This feast is available for pickup or delivery. Add on a negroni kit to mix your own Italian cocktails.
Hazel Park, MI
Tucked quietly behind joebar, frame is the revolving creative hub for curated chef residencies and special dinners. This winter, they’ve put up winter chalet yurts for a special residency with chef Mark Camaj. This immersive feast is centered around the most marvelous dishes of the sea: conch salad, squid ink garganelli, Tuscan seafood stew, and for dessert, struffoli, the delicious Italian honey-glazed doughnuts.
“This is an opportunity to sip cocktails infused with fennel and amaro and break bread over five courses,” says the team, “including our favorite: Cacciucco, Chef’s Tuscan seafood stew with clams, prawns, monkfish and squid.”
This pre-holiday celebration takes place this weekend. Don’t miss it.