January 18, 2022

Kitchen Diva: Christmas tradition gets a modern twist

It seems like I was just planning and preparing our Thanksgiving dinner and now Christmas is upon us. If you want to change things up a little for your Christmas dinner, try modernizing an old traditional recipe.

Recently, I’ve been reading about Christmas customs and holiday meals in Europe. I discovered a tradition called The Feast of the Seven Fishes, along with several delicious recipes for preparing fish.

The fish is often used as a symbol of Christianity. Because of the persecution faced by the early church, when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company.

Preparing and eating seafood on Christmas Eve in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is an old European tradition with Italian roots. Many families abstain from eating meat and serve only fish or other types of seafood on Christmas Eve.

This traditional holiday meal is called The Feast of the Seven Fishes. A typical feast features cod, eel, octopus, calamari, mussels, clams, shrimp and lobster.

This year, you might want to create a holiday dinner menu based on a variation of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. These recipes are budget-friendly ways to incorporate an ancient holiday tradition into a simplified, modern Christmas Eve dinner using just one pot or pan. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, ya’ll!

Christmas Eve Seafood Paella

Servings: 6

Ingredients

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces (16 to 20) shelled, deveined shrimp

8 ounces squid (bodies), rinsed, patted dry and sliced into rounds

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon paprika

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 can (14 ounces) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes or cayenne pepper

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

3 1/2 cups seafood, chicken or vegetable broth

1 bottle (8 ounces) clam juice

12 littleneck clams, scrubbed

Parsley and lemon wedges, for garnish

Procedure

In a deep 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat oil on medium-high until hot but not smoking. Add shrimp, squid, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of the paprika. Cook 2 minutes or until shrimp start to brown, stirring once. With slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp and squid to medium bowl.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the onion, tomatoes and the remaining salt, turmeric, paprika and the chili flakes or cayenne pepper. Cook 8 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring.

To skillet, add broth and clam juice, stirring to distribute rice evenly in pan. Heat to boiling on medium-high. Boil, without stirring, 15 minutes.

Gently press the shrimp, squid and clams on top of the rice. Cover skillet with lid or foil; cook another 10 to 16 minutes or until the clams open and rice is just tender. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley and lemons.

Spicy Seafood Stew

Servings: Make 9 (about 2 quarts)

Ingredients

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced (new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, red bliss or Yukon Gold)

1 pound carrots, sliced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

2 cups frozen corn kernels

1 jar (24 ounces) pasta sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups seafood stock or clam juice, or chicken or vegetable broth, or water

1 pound sea scallops, dry-packed or bay type, or 1 pound thin white fish filets (sole or flounder), fresh or frozen and thawed

1 pound uncooked shrimp (31 to 40 per pound); thawed, peeled and deveined

1 cup chopped parsley leaves

2 large lemons cut into wedges

Procedure

In a 5 quart slow cooker, combine the potatoes, carrots, onion, celery, garlic, lemon juice and zest, corn, pasta sauce, turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Stir to combine. Cook, covered, on low until potatoes are tender, 4 1/2 to 5 hours.

Stir in stock, broth or water, and the scallops or fish, and shrimp. Cook, covered, until scallops are opaque, and shrimp turn pink, about 4-6 minutes longer.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges and warm crusty bread.

Tip: If you’re peeling and deveining your shrimp, use the shells to make shrimp stock. Place the rinsed shrimp shells, 1 chopped carrot and stalk of celery, the onion skin and parsley stems in a large saucepan. Cover with 2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes while preparing the recipe. Use the shrimp stock according to directions above.

Angela Shelf Medearis

Angela Shelf Medearis

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www.divapro.com. © 2021 King Features Synd., Inc.