Ocean’s Bounty with a Conscience: Reviving the Feast of the Seven Fishes

Image of whole fish. The Sustainable Elegance of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Bushwick Bites. Gina Keatley

As the holiday season beckons, so does the Feast of the Seven Fishes, sauntering into Italian-American homes with its array of seafood splendors. This isn’t just a meal; it’s a gastronomic gala, where even the humble anchovy gets a moment in the spotlight. But this year, we’re spicing things up a notch – not just with seasoning, but with a dash of sustainability. Because let’s face it, feasting with a clear conscience is the real cherry on top.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes, or “La Vigilia” for those fluent in Italiano, has roots as deep as the ocean. Originating as a Roman Catholic tradition of skipping the steak before a feast day, it’s now an Italian-American extravaganza where seafood is the star. The number seven, often cited in the feast’s name, is historically significant in Catholicism, representing perfection and completion. Yet, the actual number of seafood dishes can vary, with some families preparing as many as twelve, symbolizing the apostles.

Lobster, the diva of the seafood world, demands attention with its luxurious appeal. But is it always an eco-friendly choice? Not quite. The sustainability of lobster fishing is more complex than your grandmother’s lasagna recipe. It’s a delicate dance with nature, where overfishing could lead us to a not-so-festive future.

Fear not, seafood lovers! The ocean is vast, and so are our sustainable choices. Mussels and clams are like the quiet achievers of the sea – low on the food chain and high in environmental friendliness. They don’t just taste good; they do good, cleaning the water by filtering it. Wild-caught salmon? Think of it as the responsible rebel of the seafood family. Opt for those certified by Marine Stewardship Council, ensuring they come from sustainable stocks and responsible fisheries.

And those tiny but mighty sardines and anchovies? They’re ready to bring some traditional zest to your feast, without the eco-guilt. Packed with flavor, these little fish are often overlooked but play a significant role in sustainable fishing due to their abundant populations and rapid reproduction rates.

In a nod to the unassuming sardine’s role, let’s spotlight a classic dish that embodies the spirit of the feast with sustainability at its heart: Pasta Con le Sarde. This Sicilian marvel combines the rich, oily texture of sardines with the sweetness of raisins and the crunch of pine nuts, all tossed with al dente pasta. It’s a dish that proves sustainable choices can be sumptuously delicious, and even a simple sardine can shine in the culinary limelight.

Let’s not forget the other stars of sustainable seafood: scallops and haddock. Scallops, when harvested correctly, can be a sustainable choice, offering a sweet, delicate flavor to your feast. Haddock, a white fish similar to cod, can also be a sustainable option if sourced from well-managed fisheries.

So, how about a little remix to our beloved feast? Introducing sustainable options doesn’t mean tossing tradition overboard. It’s about adding a new twist to the tale. Imagine the surprise and delight when your guests discover a new favorite that’s as kind to the planet as it is to their taste buds.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is more than a merry fest; it’s a celebration of heritage with a sprinkle of environmental mindfulness. As we gather around the festive table, let’s not forget our briny benefactor – the ocean. She’s the one keeping our plates plentiful, after all.

Incorporating these sustainable choices into the Feast of the Seven Fishes is not only about preserving our marine ecosystems but also about passing down a tradition that evolves with time. It’s an opportunity to educate younger generations on the importance of sustainability, creating new traditions that they can carry forward.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is evolving, blending the cherished with the conscious. It’s about savoring the flavors of the sea while ensuring there’s plenty left for feasts yet to come. So here’s to a holiday tradition that’s as sustainable as it is scrumptious!

Author: Gina Keatley