Tradition has it that the celebrated Italian holiday repast, The Feast of the Seven Fishes, commemorates the long wait on Christmas Eve for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. What better testament to the brilliance of Italian culture than the invention of an endless feast, shared with family and friends, just to pass the time?
The only problem with The Feast? The time. Shopping for the finest ingredients for seven (or nine, as the case may be) seafood dishes, and actually executing them well, would probably take anyone other than a true kitchen blackbelt the better part of a week. The better part of the week before Christmas, which is a week that most who celebrate the holiday spend in a mad frenzy of gift shopping, card writing, menu planning, decorating and partying.
In reality, it’s just too hard for the average hard-working New Yorker to pull off the culinary pageant of ‘La Viglia.’ But because we believe everyone should have the chance to experience this ultimate holiday feast in some way, shape or form, we asked nine of our favorite Brooklyn chefs to share recipes for a seafood dish that they’d make for a potluck version of the neverending meal.
So we present to you a Brooklyn-Style Feast of The Seven (actually Nine) Fishes…for the imagination…With recipes so you can make each dish at home – one day, or one week at a time, if you like.
Allison and Matt Robicelli, of Bay Ridge, are best known for their high-flying interpretations of the humble cupcake. Allison, a born-n-bred Brooklynite from a big, loud, loving Sicilian family, shares the story of, and recipe for, the one thing her father makes really, really well –his ‘Famous Delicious Broiled (Not Baked!) Clams.
Saul Bolton will be hosting his eighth-annual Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes this year at Saul, his six-time Michelin star-winning restaurant in Boerum Hill. Saul brings his sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, pecorino, grana padano, parsley, lemon zest and chili flake to the feasting table.
At Franny’s in Prospect Heights, chef and owner Andrew Feinberg has carved out a reputation for making simple, seasonal dishes showcasing the purity of each ingredient in every dish. Andrew offers up a characteristically minimalist dish showcasing the delicate, sweet flavor of Ruby Red shrimp – a dish whose harmony and flavor far surpasses the sum of its parts.
After a few well-spent years as chef de cuisine at the famed Spotted Pig, chef Nate Smith opened Allswell in Williamsburg, just last month, bringing his brand of haute pub fare home to Brooklyn. Nate serves up a decadent ‘salad’ featuring smoked trout and slightly smashed potatoes dressed in a bacony cream sauce simmered with onion, celery, marjoram, thyme and saffron, and topped with a soft boiled egg.
A trip to The Vinegar Hill House, hidden away on a picturesque and cobblestoned street in a tiny historic district bordering the Navy Yard on one end and the towering smokestacks of a decades-old power station on the other, can feel like a trip into a Dickensian dream version of Brooklyn. Chef Brian Leth’s seasonal, ingredient-driven fare keeps the neighborhood firmly planted on the city’s culinary map. For our feast, Brian stews local squid, a staple on his ever-changing menus, with cranberry beans, roasted peppers, cauliflower, cumin, jalapeno and a dash of pomegranate molasses.
It could be argued that the seeds of the new Brooklyn cuisine were planted at Williamsburg’s Diner, which opened in 1999, and Marlow & Sons, which opened in 2004. The neighboring kitchens forged an ethos of using the best local and sustainably-produced ingredients to make simple-yet-sophisticated, and flat-out stunning, food, and serving it without pretension. Sean Rembold, who became executive chef of both restaurants in 2009, presents his Cacciucco – an Italian-inspired slow-cooked soup that celebrates the sea with fish, bivalves, shrimp and squid, in a fish stock-infused tomato broth.
The sea has always loomed large in the life of Cal Elliot, chef/owner of Williamsburg’s Rye restaurant. His grandfather worked the fisheries of Alaska before becoming a fishmonger in Seattle, and Cal himself spent the 90’s fishing salmon and cod in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. For our Brooklyn fish feat, Cal shares his Fisherman’s stew, a hearty brew featuring fresh, local fish in a chorizo and clam-infused tomato broth with cayenne, saffron and thyme.
The Good Fork is known as the restaurant that finally convinced Manhattanites to make the trek to the waterfront frontier of Red Hook. Chef and owner Sohui Kim is known for skillfully bringing a Korean touch to an eclectic array of globally-inspired dishes. Sohui offers up a spicy Korean-style braised squid, an homage to her mom’s home cooking.
Fatty ‘Cue, Williamsburg’s temple of smoke, blew the doors off the city’s barbeque scene when they opened close to two years ago. Like all the other restaurants represented here, they work exclusively with local, sustainably and humanely grown/caught meat and fish. Unlike the others, they look to Southeast Asia for inspiration when it comes to flavor. Steve Haritopoulos, Chef de Cuisine/Pitmaster at the Brooklyn ‘Cue, celebrates the holidays through the prism of Asia with his Rock Shrimp Butternut Curry.
For deeper look into the cultural history of the Feast of the Seven Fishes in Brooklyn, along with commentary on the tradition from many notable Brooklynites, see Amy Zavatto’s recent look at the Feast in Edible Brooklyn.