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.