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Zox Kitchen

Zox Kitchen: December 19, 2013

Christmas Eve Traditions

Tradition, and its accompanying nostalgia, is something for which we oftentimes pine. Yet we sometimes still complain about the demands placed on our time and the emotional energy that is required.  In the fast moving towns and cities where we live, we may seek to avoid these strains by living private lives apart from the past. Still tradition tugs at our heartstrings. This is most especially true around the holidays when special meals allow us a means to bridge this gap. Our appetites are awakened to old ways of doing things that draw us together, and connect us across generations and amongst family and friends. A notable example: Italians practice a holiday on Christmas Eve, which a growing number of Americans enjoy as well, called “Feast of the 7 Fishes.”

The holiday has evolved over the years in Italy and in the U.S. alike. Mario Batali tells us that in many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial rejection of food, during which no meat should be served. But this has changed into something else, where each course serves one extraordinary seafood course after another. “No one’s quite sure of the significance of the number,” says Batali. “Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do 10 for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus.” But for most people—whether of Italian ancestry or Italian wannabes—the meal has become a time to gather friends and family to enjoy the fruits of the sea.  

Batali’s list includes: Clams with oregano and bread crumbs; marinated fresh anchovies; linguini with clams; spaghetti with mussels; salt cod with tomatoes and capers; jumbo shrimp Marsala style; and eel with olives, chiles and capers.

All of these dishes make my mouth water—especially when eaten at a single seating. But the holiday does not prescribe a required list from which to choose. And you don’t need to be Italian to enjoy it. If you prefer clam chowder, sushi or sashimi, poached salmon, lobster Newburg, smoked bluefish, tuna tartare, and Sole Livornese, go for it. There is no prohibition against mixing and matching your favorite combination of seven dishes—let your appetite dictate.

One of my favorite seafood dishes is a quick and easy Baja fish taco. It’s not exactly Italian, but delicious nonetheless, and I am confident will be well appreciated by all. Try it as an appetizer after chowder or before tuna tartare.

Baja Fish Taco — Serves Four

Ingredients

Approximately 2 cups of canola oil for frying. Roasting at high temperature  is better for you but not as tasty for this small treat.

1 package tempura batter mix

½ can beer

½ teaspoon salt

1 pound of boneless cod cut into approximately four strips, 2” x 4”  

4 corn tortillas

1 cup shredded green cabbage

Juice of two limes

Preheat a fryer or a large sauté pan filled with two inches of canola oil to 375 degrees. Mix one package of batter with beer. Coat the cod pieces with the prepared batter. Deep-fry for about three minutes, or until golden brown on all sides. Place fried cod pieces on warmed corn tortillas with a little shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime on each taco. Season to taste. A shake of Tabasco on each fish taco is a nice addition. That’s it. Just the way they serve them on the beach road going south in Baja California.