A Less Intimidating Feast of the Seven Fishes

Credit: Josephine Estelle (New Orleans)

“The Feast of Seven Fishes” is among the many Italian culinary customs and traditions that immigrated from the Old World and have remained relevant in modern America. While the meal takes place officially on Christmas Eve, certain Italian-inspired restaurants around the country offer it up at various times this month. But why go out when you can take advantage of your extra holiday time and prepare it yourself?

For a little help with this, suffice to say, overwhelming meal, we turned to Memphis born-and-based chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. These two James Beard Award nominees started serving their version of the seven fishes the year they opened their flagship restaurant, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, in 2008 and have kept with going with their latest acclaimed restaurant, Josephine Estelle, located in the Ace Hotel in New Orleans

While the chefs had plenty of help preparing the five courses they offered on their inaugural feast on December 6, they are acutely aware of the challenges faced by home chefs in getting seven fish on many plates in one evening. Here they offer the following suggestions for making this feast a little more manageable.

1. Involve your fish monger. “Fishmongers are butchers of seafood,” Hudman says. “Put ‘em to work for you. Have them shuck oysters, peel and clean shrimp, de-beard mussels, and the like.”

2. Serve some already prepared, cold or room-temperature dishes for the opening course. Some ideas here include smoked salmon or whitefish served on crackers or toast; ceviche (raw seafood salad cooked in lime juice), shrimp cocktail (which can be prepared and often put on a serving platter by your fishmonger). Ticer has an additional suggestion: “We like to grill squid ahead of time and then hit them with some acid at the end to come to life.” The idea is that any or all of these dishes are waiting to be served well before the door bell rings.

3. Take some of the cooking outside. The Memphisians love to grill, and they recommend putting a whole fish or hunk of steak (tuna or swordfish) above the flame to keep the kitchen less hectic and avoid excessive clean up. It also adds a smoky flavor to the meal. If grilling whole fish, Hudman recommends, “not messing with it until it detaches from the grill, to not tear the skin (about 3–4 minutes, per side).” Also, the skin on both sides should be scored to the bone at 1-1/2-inch intervals, the outsides seasoned with salt and pepper, rubbed with a bit of olive oil; the cavity gets salt and pepper, lemon slices, and an herb of choice.

4. Make one dish count for many fish. You can cram a lot of shellfish (e.g. clams, mussels, lobster, shrimp, crabs, scallops) into a single pasta dish or soup. This goes a long way towards reaching the magic number of seven fishes. Some ideas include a Sicilian fish stew, a linguine-based pasta or even a risotto chock full of shellfish.

5. Add this awesomely simple flounder recipe to your meal:

Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's Flounder with Beets, Brussels Sprouts, and Brown Butter

Ingredients (Four Servings)

  • 12 baby beets
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, leaves separated
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp roasted garlic-Sherry vinaigrette
  • 4 flounder filets
  • ½ head of roasted garlic
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  1. Put the beets in a 6 qt pressure cooker along with the stock and lock the lid in place. Following the manufacturer's instructions, bring the pot up to medium-high pressure and cook for 25 minutes; the beets should be knife-tender. Let the pressure release naturally. Carefully remove the pressure cooker lid and transfer the beets to a cutting board. Peel the beets and cut them into quarters. Set Aside.
  2. In a large frying pan, warm 2 glugs of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and sauté until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the beet quarters and sauté until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add the vinaigrette, tossing to coat. Keep warm.
  3. Season the flounder on both sides with salt and pepper. Warm a large frying pan over high heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Add the fish filets and sauté until the sides start to turn light brown, about 2 minutes. Add the roasted garlic head, if desired, to help flavor the oil. Turn the fish over, toss in butter and thyme sprigs, and remove from heat; the butter will melt and brown. Using a spoon, baste the fish with the brown butter until the fish is opaque, about 1 minute more.
  4. To serve, divide the beets, brussels sprouts evenly among four warmed plates. Place the fish fillets on top and spoon the brown butter from the pan over the fish. Reserve the roasted garlic for another use. Serve immediately.