December 9, 2010. I’m not Italian, but I always thought the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes was a very cool idea for a festive meal. So a couple of years ago I decided to give it a shot. By about two in the afternoon – T-minus three hours and counting – I realized I just wasn’t going to get it all done on time. So I ran down to the grocery store and bought a package of Pepperidge Farm goldfish to pass off as the seventh course.
Everyone thought this was pretty funny. But it was not Better or Cheaper. So this year I’m planning ahead. For a very cool menu that I – and you – can easily knock off. Five of the seven courses are pretty quick. All seven are really easy. A fair amount of things can be done in advance to make your Christmas Eve day a Slower, Happier holiday.
Even the shopping’s quick and easy. The seven dishes are so varied that you could make them all with the same fish and still have seven very different courses. So I’m doing all of them with salmon. We’ll be starting with this one:
Delicious, light, refreshing. Preparation time: 10 minutes. You can do it in advance.
A half-pound (or less) of wild Alaskan salmon and one apple will make four servings. Slice the fish and fruit into small squares. About a half-inch on a side and a quarter-inch thick.
Chop very finely: a heaping tablespoon each of fresh mint and fresh cilantro. If you’re taking the spice road, finely chop a quarter teaspoon of a jalapeno or other chili pepper.
Combine all of this in a bowl and toss it with a tablespoon of mustard seed oil. This is the magic ingredient in the recipe. It adds a bit of heat and a lot of mystery. It’s really terrific with the richness of the fish and sweetness of the apple. Yes, you could do without it. But it’s way better with it. Use it once and you’ll invent plenty of other ways to use it.
You can do all of the above in advance. In the morning, two hours before dinner or anywhere in between. Just cover and refrigerate it to let the flavors combine and find their way into the fish.
30 minutes before serving: Take it out of the fridge, toss it thoroughly with four tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lime juice, cover it and put it back in the fridge. When you’re ready to begin The Feast, take it out, give it a quick toss and serve.
This is one of the dishes that’s just as good with tuna, halibut, swordfish, red snapper, shrimp or scallops. Or a combination of any or all. And it’s not for Christmas Eve only. It’s a great light starter or main course during warm weather.
Every Thing Is Everything
Do the righteous and delicious thing: use Blue Ocean Institute‘s Seafood Guide to help you choose sustainable seafood. Sudden crisis of conscience at the sushi bar? Text their FishPhone or download the free iPhone app. When you visit their web site, make a donation to this fine conservation organization.
I’m using Alaskan wild salmon. Because they come from a well-managed fishery. They’re abundant, not over-fished. Their habitat is healthy. I stay away from farmed salmon because the farms, with a few exceptions, create high environmental costs: water pollution, diseases and antibiotics spread to wild populations.
It’s Always Something
The only problem right now with the delicious wild ones: we’re coming to the very end of their seasonal availability.
So every fish dish I’m making will turn out great with tuna: pole-caught and troll-caught yellowfin, albacore or skipjack. No bluefin tuna. They’re heavily over-fished and, without international regulation, they’ll be gone pretty soon.
But striped bass is terrific, another abundant fish. Or swordfish, if they’re from the healthy North Atlantic fishery or the Pacific. Or Pacific halibut. And some of the dishes turn out great with shrimp, tilapia, squid and mackerel.
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