We have Catholicism to thank for the Feast of Seven Fishes. From as far back as the Roman era, they would "fast" before Christmas. I put "fast" in parentheses because it usually meant they abstained from meat. And on Christmas Eve, they'd enjoy the bounty of the sea. Southern Italian immigrants brought the tradition to the United States, and it disseminated from New York City's Little Italy in the 1800s to well-appointed homes in the American South.
Sarah Nicholas and her family have made an annual tradition of Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it was effortlessly elegant. Not too mention a far cry from what I imagined this meal was like. I always pictured loud gatherings in Italian tenements, with all the bickering and kissing and the elbowing of one another. Clearly I've seen my share of mob movies from the 1990s.
There were beautifully-plated bacon-wrapped shrimp, truffled cod with Moroccan couscous, cured salmon with fresh-chopped garlic, au-gratin scallops over mushrooms, lobster bisque, shrimp scampi, whitefish spread, seafood lasagna, lobster ravioli, clam chowder quiche, and I haven't even touched upon the charcuterie, sides and dessert. It may as well be called the Feat of the Seven Fishes. Hosting a dinner like this is not for the faint of heart.
For this reason, I marveled at Sarah's ease. Shoulders back, languid on the couch, laughing. I try to pull off this aura, but I often forget to take off my apron, or I keep jumping up because I forgot "one last thing."
At the Nicholas home, Bing Crosby played softly on the speakers, birch candles gave off a fresh, sprucy scent and children pulled Nutcracker-themed candy poppers after dinner. The evening was decadent, yet Sarah made it feel like she "woke up like this."
Happy holidays, everyone!