BACCALA – a must at the Feast of the Seven Fishes

Hi there,

My friend Gloria who is the quintessential Italian American cook took the time out of her busy life to share with us the story of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and her classic recipe for baccala. What follows is Gloria’s story:

“Here is a recipe my dear Mom passed on, to be enjoyed by all on Christmas Eve at our most important culinary event called the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes originated in southern Italy and is still served by many Italian American families on Christmas Eve. In lieu of meat on Christmas Eve, a feast of fish and shellfish is prepared. Why seven different types of fish? Tradition tells that it is because God took seven days to create the universe. One of my favorite dishes is Baccala Stew.

When you shop for this particular fish, you will be looked at strangely. I always ask for the fish that looks like a piece of cardboard.

You can make this recipe with fresh cod, but I prefer to use my mother’s method. So for a few days before cooking, you will see a pot with this fish in water in my refrigerator. I change the water a few times a day for about 2 to 3 days. You will see the cardboard fish begin to soften. It seems anymore that there are only a few people who really like this dish. But for those more adventurous eaters, here is my mom’s recipe.

I have to disagree with Gloria, I read in Wednesday’s food section of the New York Times that the Feast has become an event in the homes of many Americans. In fact, it has become so popular, that the Fulton Seafood Market has a Feast package which they will deliver to your home for preparation of the Feast. Contained in that package is baccala.



  • 1 lb of dry salt Cod
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 lb green bitter olives
  • 1 small jar of caper
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 clove of garlic


  • Saute the onions and celery in a small amount of olive oil
  • Add salt, pepper and the oregano
  • Chop the garlic and add to the pan
  • Add the olives, I buy the green olives packed in oil which I smash and remove the pit. These olives are essential for their bitter taste which creates the savory element for this dish.
  • Add the raisins, capers and tomatoes.
  • Simmer for 3/4 of an hour and then add the baccala.
  • Cook for at least another 20 minutes until the fish is done

Note: I enjoy this dish with some good crusty Italian bread and white wine.

Thank you Gloria for sharing this story and your Mom’s recipe. And a big thank you to your niece, Roe, for introducing us and helping to make this post possible.

Roe and her Grandmother the originator of the recipe.

27 responses to “BACCALA – a must at the Feast of the Seven Fishes”

  1. Although not a fish eater the final stew looks sumptuous and full of flavour and colours! It’s interesting that this tradition is still strong. In Sweden tradition Christmas Eve dinners will include a fish dish as well!

      • Interesting, Bernadette.

        No, Sweden is not catholic, rather the main church is protestant.

        The tradional Christmas Eve (which is the day of the main festivities) meals consist first of beautiful and sumptuous Smorgasbord, with a share of hams and other meats. Then there is a main meal served which includes the fish. My favourite as a child (I ate very little then) was the cakes for dessert!

  2. I can smell the memory. Over the years the Christmas eve feast has innceased to a dozen or so fish/seafood dishes. Everyone comes to my parents home and brings their specialty. I make Oysters Antoinette (better than Rockerfeller) and a stripe bass , but more frequently cod wellington. No baccala.

    • I’ll bet there is a wait list to be invited to your parent’s Christmas Eve feast. You will have to share your recipe for Oysters Antionette. Oysters are one of my very favorite. Have a wonderful weekend Antionette.

  3. Bernadette, I love your stories and recipes. While reading this one, I thought this sounds just like my Nana’s recipe. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I see the picture of my sister and grandmother! Nan was a great cook and she taught me all I know about cooking delicious Italian food including this dish. Can’t get dried cod in VA so I use fresh.

    • Elaine, I hadn’t the faintest idea you were reading my posts but it must have been a wonderful surprise to see your Nan and Roe. Do you have a story and a recipe that you would like to share?

  4. I loved reading about the traditions and meaning behind the Feast of the Seven Fishes. I love hearing about different family traditions and ways they celebrate Christmas. Thanks Bernadette~

  5. This looks delicious and makes me wish I was Italian! We had a local restaurant that did wine dinners a few years ago, and the Italian chef prepared a Dec wine dinner menu with feast of the seven fishes. Every course was perfectly paired to an Italian wine and the food was phenomenal. That was the best culinary night of my life! Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • Good morning Terrie, as you know one doesn’t need to be born Jewish to cook their wonderful foods and this applies across all the ethnic boarders. I think we all prepared and ate each other’s foods, we would understand and respect each other more.

  6. This sounds like a good one, Bernadette. We eat a lot of salmon here, but it’s nice to have something different now and then. Thanks for the recipe, and wishing you a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year. Hugs.

Any comments or suggestions are appreciated. If you like this recipe, please give it to your friends.

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