At my Jewish-Ital-Catholic house, traditions run deep, one of which is Feast of the Seven Fishes. Because my husband and I are juggling two religions and two young kids, we’ve turned it into a streamlined version of the multi-course meal that is still satisfying.
Our simplified Feast started almost a decade ago, when it was just the two of us. Back then, we wanted to find a way to honor my husband’s family traditions without overdoing it. How could two people eat through seven seafood-centric courses in one night? How could I lessen the burden of all the cooking, enjoy an evening before a major holiday, participate in some of the rituals that made the Feast so special, and still pull off an interesting and diverse meal?
The first time we cooked the Feast of the Seven Fishes, we made one very big pasta dish that incorporated seven different kinds of seafood. But as our family grew, we expanded the meal and our ambition. I still didn’t have any desire to spend all day and night in the kitchen. Yet I wanted to ensure that we produced a feast that lived up to the promise of the moniker: a feast.
Course 1: Shrimp Cocktail
As with any major holiday, I try to balance the responsibilities of cooking with my responsibilities as a parent and as a host. Eventually, I came to favor simplicity over rigor. Why couldn’t shrimp cocktail be one of my courses, I reasoned? Cold, fat shrimp — I buy mine pre-cooked — dipped in spicy, tangy cocktail sauce, is the perennial favorite that guests flock to at any event. And so, it has become a standard part of my menu. Buy your cocktail sauce pre-made like I do and doctor it up with a little horseradish sauce, fresh lemon juice, and Worcestershire.
Course 2: Oysters
Another simple addition is local oysters, which my husband shucks right before our guests arrive. I make the mignonette — minced shallots in red wine vinegar with salt and pepper — up to a week ahead of time and serve the oysters atop crushed ice. Now, along with the shrimp cocktail, our oysters have become the opening act for our evening’s feast.
Course 3: Crab Toast
I have found additional ways to lighten the load of my magnificent feast, and you’ll find recipes for four of them below. Enter this toast. I mix together jumbo lump crab, purchased pre-picked and cleaned, with mayo, Dijon mustard, minced jalapeño, and maybe a little cilantro. The mixture holds together well in the fridge and can be spread atop thinly sliced and barely toasted slices of baguette and plated a half hour before family members walk through the door.
Course 4: Poke
Each year, the poke is a little different based on what I have on-hand, usually a combination of scallions, avocado, cucumber slices, and fresh ginger. A few hours before the guests arrive, I combine sushi-grade tuna with toasted sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and Sriracha to marinate. Then I combine it with the vegetables for a savory dish that can be individually plated in glasses or bowls for a fun take on the Hawaiian classic.
Courses 5 and 6: Grenobloise Scallops and Grilled Lobsters
The final three courses are served hot. I invite my guests to sit down at the table. The grenobloise — seared scallops beneath a brown-butter-caper-parsley sauce —is first, followed by lobsters, split, buttered, and grilled.
Course 7: Linguine alla Vongole
But the pièce de résistance of my Feast of the Seven Fishes is the final course, which I cook while my family sits and chats over the remains of the lobster. As they drink their wine, I make the vongole, a dish that must be cooked at the very last minute. It’s the one dish that requires patience and dedication, a dish that is all holiday spirit and, yes, work.
At the end, there is, though, a reward: bowls of slick pasta, each ribbon coated with a buttery, garlic-studded sauce. My version includes both fresh and canned clams for a rich, thick take that empties bowls. On top, I sprinkle homemade panko-garlic breadcrumbs for texture, a parting gift after seven courses. Each year, when the meal ends, I find myself wishing it would last just a little longer. Until next year, I think. Until next year.
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
Mayonnaise (Kewpie or regular)
Salt and pepper
A good-quality baguette
Combine the crab with the mayo, Dijon, salt, and pepper, all to taste (for a creamier texture, add more mayo and mustard; you can go up to about a quarter cup total). Add in minced jalapeño (remove seeds and ribs for less heat) and cilantro leaves and stems, if desired. Other additions you may want to consider: chopped green olives, minced scallions, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, Cholula hot sauce, or chopped anchovy. You can also integrate tinned fish with the lump crab; think cockles in brine, sardines, or even scallops. Spoon the crab mixture onto lightly toasted slices of baguette and serve immediately.
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
¼ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 pound sushi-grade tuna
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Optional: chopped cucumber, minced scallion, cubed avocado, grated ginger, edamame, sliced radish, pre-prepared seaweed salad.
Combine sesame oil, soy sauce, Sriracha, and rice wine vinegar in a medium bowl. Cut tuna into ¾-inch cubes and place in sauce to marinate. Mix everything together with sesame seeds and optional ingredients. You can use as little or as much as you want, either for texture or for flavor. The longer the veggies marinate, the more they will absorb the flavor — but they will lose some of their crunch if they sit for too long. Serve within 4 hours.
2-3 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
1 ½ pounds dry, large sea scallops, foot muscle removed
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons cold butter
½ tablespoon lemon juice (from one lemon half)
3 tablespoons capers
Handful coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, drizzle in the grapeseed oil and bring to medium heat. When the oil has started to ripple, pat the scallops dry and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on them. Working in batches, place the scallops in the pan, making sure they do not touch.
Cook, undisturbed, until the bottoms of the scallops are dark golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn each scallop and let the other side cook until golden, an additional 2 minutes. Repeat with the remaining scallops, adding more oil as needed.
Set the scallops aside on a clean serving plate. Wipe the pan clean with a cloth or paper towel and return it to the stove and allow it to cool slightly. Place the cold butter in the pan and swirl over medium heat until it begins to brown. You will smell the milk solids start to turn and then, all of a sudden, they will shift from light to dark.
Immediately turn the heat off and stir in the lemon juice and the capers. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, add the parsley, gently swirling it through the sauce so that it remains as vibrant as possible. Spoon the finished sauce over the seared scallops and serve immediately.
Linguine alla Vongole
36 littleneck clams, in shells
Kosher salt, to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 head of garlic, divided
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
Zest from one lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup dry white wine
One 10-ounce can chopped clams, drained, liquid reserved
1 pound dried linguine
½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
About 1 hour before you plan to cook, fill a large bowl with cold water and add a handful of salt. Slip in the clams and let stand for 20 minutes. Remove the clams from water and discard the liquid; if there is any sand at the bottom of the bowl, rinse it out. Repeat this process twice.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat (this is for the pasta). Meanwhile, make the breadcrumbs. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Mince 3 garlic cloves and add them to the skillet. Season with salt and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the breadcrumbs, and cook, shaking constantly, until they just begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir the lemon zest to combine.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Slice the remaining 10 garlic cloves and cook, stirring, until the garlic just starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and the liquid from the canned clams, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
Add the whole clams to the heavy-bottomed pot, stirring briefly. Cover and cook until all the clams open, checking on them every 2 to 3 minutes and removing them as they open. Using tongs, transfer the opened clams to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Discard any clams that refuse to open.
Remove 12 clams from the shells and return them to the pot of clam sauce. Add the canned clams and cook until the liquid has reduced by a third, about 5 minutes.
When the large pot of water comes to a boil, season it with salt. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the instructions on the package. Set aside 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and then, using tongs, transfer the cooked pasta to the pan with the clams and coat with the clam sauce.
Add the reserved pasta water to the sauce 1/4 cup at a time, stirring vigorously with tongs. If the pasta absorbs all of the water, add more until there is a thick, slightly pooled sauce at the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter until it melts and coats the strands. Stir in the chopped parsley.
Divide the pasta among the bowls, topping each bowl with the reserved clams in the shell. Evenly distribute the breadcrumbs over each portion and serve.
Photographer: Paul Quitoriano
Food Styling: Lena Abraham
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros Gomez