You Can Still Pull Off a Last-Minute Feast of the 7 Fishes on Christmas Eve

Here, tips on making the traditional Italian-American feast a little less intimidating to execute.

holiday feast for james beard foundation
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Scelfo

On Christmas Eve, Italian-American families and proud seafood lovers around the country celebrate a very special occasion: The Feast of the Seven Fishes, the ultimate excuse for eating and drinking exorbitant amounts of food with the people you don't get to see nearly enough.

While some die-hards take over a week to plan and cook their feast (I already have my baccalà soaking in the fridge), you can still pull something together last-minute. Here are some tips from Michael Scelfo, chef of Waypoint and Alden & Harlow in Cambridge, Mass. and Seven Fishes veteran, that'll empower you to whip up something fantastic, even if you don't have days—or even hours—to spare.

1. Tinned seafood is your friend.

In case you haven't heard, premium canned seafood is all the rage: think bright sardines from Italy, stuffed squid from Portugal and briny mussels from Spain. The great thing about food that comes in cans? The work is already done for you. Here, we offer ideas on how to serve these tin-packed delicacies. (Smoked trout, for example, is perfect in an apple and arugula salad.)

Scelfo recommends doing a super-simple charcuterie board of seafood tins. "You can do a really fun presentation and hit them all with a good splash of olive oil and crusty bread," he says. "Try and get a couple of pickled type things on there, too, and fresh-cut lemons to squeeze on it. Another thing I always love to make: I'll buy a really good quality oil-packed tuna and mix with parsley, capers, red onion, lemon and red pepper flake, and then serve on little crackers."

feast of seven fish
Courtesy of Michael Scelfo

2. Turn the feast into a cocktail party.

There’s no law saying the Feast of the Seven Fishes has to be a sit-down dinner, so Scelfo came up with a good stress-relieving workaround.

“To take the pressure off of the night a little bit, we’ve turned it into kind of like a cocktail party,” he says. “We don’t ever really sit down as a big group and eat at a big table. We’re in the kitchen together, standing around, things are coming out in waves. There will be some stationary stuff. If you love tinned fish, set up that. Cold cuts, a couple salads—give people something to graze on. Every 45 minutes or so, there are a couple of few things coming out. It’s really festive.”

3. Make some dishes the day before.

Scelfo always whips up a simple crab dip the day before the festivities and has it ready to go when everyone arrives. You can even make his oil-packed tuna salad, see above, the day before, and then hit the mix with fresh parsley before the party starts.

“Keeping it simple is best, just in general,” he says.

4. Batch your cocktails, or let people make their own.

Or make everybody bring wine, so that’s one less thing you have to worry about.

"There's always wine, too," Scelfo says. "We usually set up a full bar so everyone can do their own thing. A lot of people like to have brown spirits for the end of the night. Baileys is really popular at the end of the dinner."

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