You Can Throw an Impressive Holiday Feast Using Canned Fish—Here’s How
Every Christmas Eve across the country, many families gather for an elaborate, multi-course meal known as Festa dei sette pesci—Feast of the Seven Fishes. It's an Italian-American tradition with a hotly contested origin story and a few unanswered questions (no one is quite sure why the number of dishes was set at seven, but perhaps for the number of sacraments in Catholic tradition). That said, one thing that's for sure: A massive seafood spread during the holiday season is a tradition worth embracing, whether or not you’re of Italian descent.
But for those of us without days upon days to prepare seven thoughtful, intricate seafood dishes as we’re also hurriedly shopping for last minute gifts and, you know, working, there’s another approach: hosting a non-traditional party honoring the Feast of the Seven Fishes with tinned seafood.
Tinned seafood, the majority of which is imported from Spain or Portugal, is having a real moment, as lovers of all-things-briny have swapped their mental image of seafood-in-a-can from the less-than-appetizing stuff to gorgeously illustrated, thoughtfully packaged jewel boxes of oceanic delight. And not only are tinned mussels, clams, tuna, squid and the like all delicious—they’re also packed with Omega-3s and calcium. It really doesn’t get more win-win than that.
When selecting seven (or more, go crazy if you want) cans of tinned seafood for your low-key fishy party, think about a range of textures, pungency and adventurousness. The Ortiz Ventresca white tuna belly (yes, tuna belly!) is sure to be a tender, delicate hit even with those the least seafood-curious, while the Don Bocarte Bay of Biscay squid in its own ink with onions is for the more familiar sea-snacker. Other choices that are sure to hit the sweet spot between “familiar” and “funky delicacy” include the Ramón Peña razor clams (or anything from this Gallaecian company), succulent cockles from Zingerman’s and the spicy calamari in ragout from José Gourmet. (The illustrations on all José Gourmet packaging are works of art and will perhaps inspire you to form a collection long after the snacks inside are gone.) A personal, off-the-beaten path favorite is the company’s trout pate with port wine, which I first discovered at the N7 in New Orleans and, ever since the first bite, have purchased several times for gatherings. (Spoiler alert: everyone loves it as much as I do.)
Of course, you can’t just set out the tinned seafood and call it a day. Having a solid spread of crusty breads, high-quality butter and smoked salts plus a few tapas—piquillo peppers, pickled vegetables or even a fruity marmalade—will ensure the prized seafood bites have proper sidekicks. (This is also helpful for those partygoers who aren’t ready to make the “dive” into tinned seafood.)
But who knows? By the end of the night, even the most seafood-skeptical might be savoring the rich complexity of tinned Spanish mackerel. This kind of seafood is pretty magical like that.