What would Christmas be without fresh seafood? Well, in many parts of the world, including our beautiful Emerald Coast, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without preparing and consuming some treasure from the sea. Seafood and Christmas, it seems, have a centuries-long history of being celebrated together.
The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve originates from the Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat or dairy on Fridays or holy days. Christmas Eve was one such day, so in Catholic countries, like Italy, many would eat fish instead.
This tradition has come to be known as the "Feast of the Seven Fishes." This Christmas Eve meal typically consists of seven, or more, seafood dishes to celebrate the night before the actual feast on Christmas Day.
Many families in central European countries, like Poland and Czechoslovakia, feast on a Christmas carp for their Christmas Eve dinner. The wild-caught carp actually spends time in the family bathtub for a few days prior, in order to improve on its sometimes muddy flavor.
In Ireland, the Christmas Eve dinner features a simple stew made from a fish called the ling.
When Irish cooks immigrated to America and couldn’t find the salty, preserved, ling fish, they substituted oysters, which were bountiful during the winter months and had a similar taste and texture.
Speaking of oysters, oyster stuffing has been an American tradition since the country was founded. Northern oyster stuffing tends to feature breadcrumbs, while the southern version uses cornbread. There are many recipes available from the early 1900s including "oyster stuffing for roast turkey" from the famous Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School.
A little closer to home, anyone visiting Louisiana during the holidays is sure to consume some seafood gumbo and grilled oysters. Local shrimp and oysters are readily available along the Emerald Coast during December. What is a Christmas party without a heaping platter for freshly steamed bay shrimp? Just visit your favorite local fish monger to get the freshest local product or get out and catch your own.
Don’t worry if you have not had much experience cooking seafood. There is a lot of help available. Check out this Fresh from Florida website from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: http://bit.ly/2knOizk. They have great recipes, charts indicating what is in season and even videos to help with your preparation techniques.
Laura Tiu is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.