While Christmas for most of us in the western world includes a festive meal centered around turkey, ham or roast beef, many Italians – particularly Italian Americans – traditionally indulge the night before in a sumptuous seafood spread known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Also called La Vigilia, a reference to the wait for baby Jesus to be born at midnight on Christmas Eve, the feast calls for families to dine on seven different dishes featuring seven different fish – a tradition that gained more attention this year as the setting of a chaotic, star-studded episode of popular TV series “The Bear.”

Eating fish – and not meat, or anything cooked in meat fat – on the eve of a holy day is a Roman Catholic custom. Some food historians have said the number of dishes is associated with the Seven Sacraments, though others say the tradition references the Seven Hills of Rome.

There’s no real consensus on how the feast is carried out, either, as the tradition can vary widely from family to family. Some cook only fin fish, not shellfish. Some cook fewer than seven dishes, but serve stews, soups and casseroles that incorporate multiple kinds of seafood. Still others may cook as many as 12 seafood dishes (or more).

We asked Maine chefs, home cooks and seafood purveyors to each contribute a recipe they’d recommend serving at a Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner. Their dishes run the gamut from fin fish to mollusks like octopus, squid and scallops, though surprisingly for Maine, nobody picked lobster. Whether you’re a seasoned Feast of the Seven Fishes veteran looking for a new dish to round out your repertoire or a newbie who wants to make a special seafood dish or two this Christmas season, these recipes have you covered.

If seven dishes feels daunting, consider a shortcut. Cook Maine-based cookbook author and Italian food expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins’s recipe for bourride, a Provencal fish stew that combines several types of fish and seafood in a single dish.


Buon appetito and Buon Natale!

Roasted Oysters with Spicy Gochujang Seaweed Butter Photo by Kiera Foti

Roasted Oysters with Spicy Gochujang Seaweed Butter

From Kiera Foti, brand manager, Atlantic Sea Farms, Biddeford

Foti writes: “When I was growing up, our family often gathered for Christmas Eve feasting with my aunt and uncle on my dad’s side. My dad and his brother are Italian-American and my aunt is Polish, so there was always a fun fusion of food traditions with a nod to the Feast of the Seven Fishes included.

“Oysters are so festive and I love the ritual of sharing them as the kick-off to a multi-course meal, whether raw or butter-roasted. Though I usually squeeze the latter with fresh lemon juice just before serving to brighten the flavors, the tang from the seaweed salad in this recipe covers that territory for you. Open the oysters carefully to capture their flavorful liquor.”

Serves 6-8

24 medium to large oysters, scrubbed clean of sand and/or grit under cool running water

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

1/2 cup Atlantic Sea Farms Spicy Gochujang Seaweed Salad (not drained), roughly chopped, juices retained

An oyster roasting pan, or coarse rock or kosher salt, or foil (to keep oysters steady in a baking pan)

Shuck oysters, retaining as much of the liquor (juices) in bottom shells as possible. Discard top shells.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the butter and seaweed salad (including any juices from the cutting board). Heat over medium-low, stirring to combine, until gently simmering. Cook for 2 minutes to allow butter to absorb seaweed salad flavors. Remove from the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Heat broiler to high.

Set the oysters in an oyster roasting pan, or fill a baking pan with a ½-inch layer of salt, or line a baking pan (or two) with crumpled foil (to keep oysters steady so the filling doesn’t spill), and set the oysters on top.

Spoon the seaweed butter atop the oysters, using all or most of the butter (depending on oyster size), then broil until the juices are bubbling, 1 to 3 minutes. Serve hot.

Pomodoro Scampi

From proprietor Anthony Barrasso of Anthony’s Italian Kitchen, Portland

Barrasso, 83, fondly recalled the Vigilia feasts his family celebrated at their homes in East Boston and Revere, Massachusetts, when he was a kid. “It was like a big party,” Barrasso said. “I remember having such great times and great food, and it was all about eating and singing and partying. Very festive and colorful.”


Barrasso’s mom would make a baccala (salt cod) salad, fried smelts, scallops and more, including one of his favorites, this pomodoro scampi, which he recommends serving over linguini, preferably linguine fini, the thinner version.

“My mother had three sisters who all cooked very well, and they would be cooking all day,” he said. Barrasso’s uncle would bring his homemade red wine to the feast, and others brought homemade limoncello. “They had a bocce court, so if it wasn’t too cold, they’d go out there and play bocce. And when they drank that red wine, it wasn’t too cold.

“These were immigrants, and they brought their immigrant ways with them from the old country,” Barrasso continued. “But they were precious, and if you were a kid like me, oh my God, you really enjoyed it.”

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced shallot


2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup red wine

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 pounds extra-jumbo (16-22 count) peeled and deveined shrimp

1 teaspoon sugar


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallot to pan, sauté for 2 minutes. Add the garlic; sauté for 2 additional minutes.

Add the red wine and lower the heat to medium; cook until the wine is reduced by half, stirring pan to deglaze.

Add the tomatoes, oregano and shrimp; bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes until the shrimp are pink and cooked through and the flavors have melded, adding sugar near the end.

Maine Uni (Sea Urchin) Butter Pasta

From SoPo Seafood co-founder Joshua Edgcombe and digital content creator Jacqueline Clarke (aka The Briny Babe), South Portland

Clarke writes: “Beautifully sweet and oozing with brine, uni (aka sea urchin roe) is a delicacy begging to be incorporated into your Feast of the Seven Fishes menu. Uni is like the foie gras of the sea and can be whipped up with some butter to make a citrusy and briny sauce for pasta.”


Edgcombe writes: “Maine uni may not be the first thing you think of when considering Feast of the Seven Fishes options, but it’s a versatile, locally harvested delicacy well worth considering. Uni is delightfully sweet, slightly briny, and creamy – those who have not experienced fresh uni before that visit the SoPo Raw Bar are always pleasantly surprised. At the Raw Bar, uni is offered straight up on spoons or atop Maine oysters. So, if you do decide to get a tray of uni for your Feast of the Seven Fishes meal, and you want to give your guests a fun experience, offer them a lobe of uni to savor.”

SoPo Seafood Raw Bar/Market Uni sells uni in 5.3-ounce trays. Uni does not have a long shelf-life; ideally, use 1-3 days after purchase. Do not freeze, as this will ruin the texture and quality. Store in the coldest part of your fridge.

Serves 6-8

1 (5.3-oz.) container of fresh Maine uni

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ teaspoon lemon juice



1 pound bucatini or linguine pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup dry white wine

Osetra caviar (optional for garnish)

Set aside 10-12 large lobes of the uni for garnish. (Do not eat these right away – they are tempting!)

With a sharp knife, chop up the remaining uni lobes until you have something that essentially resembles orange Gak (children’s play slime). Combine the butter and chopped uni in a mixing bowl or a food processor. Once they’re nicely blended, stir in the lemon juice. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a hearty sprinkling of salt. Add the pasta; cook according to package instructions. Drain the pasta.


Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot and garlic are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, stirring frequently until fully evaporated.

Add the reserved uni butter to the pan; let it begin to melt. Add the cooked pasta. Mix the uni butter and pasta together with a pair of tongs until the uni butter is evenly distributed. Add more uni butter to the pan as necessary depending on how buttery you like your pasta.

Divvy the uni butter pasta among 6-8 plates. Carefully adorn each serving with a few reserved pieces of uni. If you want to get really fancy (“I mean, we’re already making uni butter pasta,” the recipe developers said), garnish each plate with a few dollops of amber-hued osetra caviar.

Sicilian Citrus Salad with Anchovies and Mint from chef and author Barton Seaver. Photo courtesy of Barton Seaver

Sicilian Citrus Salad with Anchovies and Mint

From chef, author and sustainable food expert Barton Seaver, South Freeport

Seaver writes: “I know, you read the recipe title and thought to yourself, ‘WHAT???’ Stay with me here. Holiday meals lean towards the heavy and rely often on root crops and the bounty of other seasons.


“But winter is when citrus sings and this dish, with its mix of cheery colors and bright fresh flavors, is a showstopper. It also performs a vital function in such a lengthy meal as The Feast. When presented as a middle course it serves to reinvigorate our taste buds and our attentions.

“So maybe I’ve convinced you on the citrus part, but what about the anchovy? Well, the salty/funky cured fish meets the sweet tang of the fruit and their flavors shine brighter for being together. It’s a dish of elegant balance, but it’s not a high-wire act to pull off. The key is great-quality anchovies, available from many grocery and specialty stores throughout Maine. The wise additions of rich olive oil, fresh mint and chile – with its subtle kick – bring it all together in this gorgeous gift of a savory salad.”

Serves 4

6 citrus fruits (a mix of varieties such as blood orange and Cara cara oranges)

1 mint sprig, leaves picked and cut very thinly into threads (or use fresh tarragon)

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or top-quality red wine vinegar


12-16 salt-cured or smoked anchovies, oil-packed

Red chile flakes (such as Aleppo or Gochugaru varieties)

Extra-virgin olive oil (Seaver recommends using the best you can afford)

Cut off the top and bottom poles of each citrus fruit to expose the flesh. Slice off the peel and trim away any pith, top to bottom. Cut each orange vertically into quarters, removing any seeds. Cut each quarter horizontally into 1/4-inch slices.

Carefully transfer the citrus slices to a mixing bowl and chill until needed.

When ready to serve, add the mint and sherry vinegar to the citrus fruits. Mix gently to avoid breaking up the pieces. Divide the citrus among 4 dishes.


Top each serving with 3-4 anchovy fillets, curling them like ribbons so they rest proudly atop the citrus. Sprinkle with chile flakes and finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil.

This Grilled Octopus Salad with Frisee, Shaved Fennel and Scallop Buttermilk Dressing is a show-stopping dish fit for a lavish feast. Courtesy of Via Vecchia

Grilled Octopus Salad with Frisee, Shaved Fennel, and Scallop Buttermilk Dressing

From Via Vecchia Executive Chef Mitchell Ryan, Portland

Ryan writes: “I really love serving octopus during the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s a protein not everyone feels comfortable cooking, but when done correctly, charred octopus might be one of my favorite bites.”

When he makes this dish at Via Vecchia, Ryan uses whole octopus that he braises in water seasoned with peppercorn, bay leaves, cardamom pods and coriander seeds. To make it simpler for the home cook, he recommends buying precooked octopus tentacles from Browne Trading Company.

Ryan advises soaking the sliced fennel and frisee leaves in an ice bath for about 15 minutes before assembling the salad so the produce is crisp and perky.


This dish also finds a use for the tough scallop “feet” on the side of the scallops that are usually discarded because of their chewiness. Ryan recommends using scallop meat if you don’t have scallop feet on hand.

Serves 8-9

3 ounces scallop feet or meat

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup mayonnaise


2 lemons, zested

4 pounds precooked octopus tentacles

Salt and pepper to taste

About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 bulbs fennel, shaved and soaked in an ice bath for 15 minutes

4 heads frisee, cored, tops trimmed, separated into leaves and soaked in an ice bath for 15 minutes


2 bunches scallions greens, thinly sliced

2/3 cup (4 ounces) oil-cured olives, roughly chopped

1 cup fried shallots (available jarred at Asian markets)

3 oranges, sliced into segments between the membranes (supremes)

To prepare the dressing, combine the scallop feet/meat, garlic and buttermilk in a small pot set over low heat; let steep for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Strain and chill the buttermilk; discard solids.

Once the infused buttermilk is chilled, combine it in a mixing bowl with the mayonnaise and lemon zest. Chill this mixture for at least 4 hours or overnight.


To prepare the salad, preheat a grill to medium-high heat.

Season the octopus with salt and pepper and drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat (a couple tablespoons). Place the tentacles on preheated grill rack; grill 3-4 minutes per side until lightly charred. Slice the charred octopus into coins.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the grilled octopus, fennel, frisee, scallions greens, olives and enough scallop buttermilk dressing to coat the ingredients. Mix gently and let sit for 5-8 minutes to marinate.

Serve the salad topped with the fried shallots and orange segments and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Curried Mussels

From “At Home, At Sea,” a cookbook by Maine food writer and former Press Herald columnist Anne Mahle, introduced by Camden resident Carmine DeStefano


DeStefano writes: “Nothing on a cold Christmas Eve warms my heart like this wonderful curried mussel recipe shared with my family. We enjoy this with a crusty, rustic loaf of bread. This has become a newer tradition for us. Christmas Eve for me while growing up always centered around my large extended family; aunts, uncles, cousins – probably 20-25 people – came and everybody brought dishes to share. It was full of Italian charcuterie, cheeses, pastas, stewed mushrooms, wines, breads and seafood. After that was cleared, the cookies, candies and rum fruit cakes that my mom slaved over for days arrived at the table.

“The family members of yore have all passed on now and creating new traditions that harken back to this past becomes more important as the years pass by for me now. Somehow this mussel dish fits in, and for a decade or so it is something we share in our small family. I hope you find some way to hold your memories during the holidays too. The recipe comes from Annie Mahle’s cookbook; she is a dear friend of ours.”

Serves 4 as part of a larger feast

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded


1 ½ teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 scallions, thinly sliced


Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and cook the garlic until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the mussels, curry powder, salt and pepper and stir everything together. Add the white wine and stir briefly. Add the heavy cream.

Cover and simmer until the mussels are done. You’ll know they are done when the shells open, which should take 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with scallions.

Grilled Brook Trout with Celery Root Puree, Brown Butter Sauce, Olives and Pine Nuts

From Leeward Chef Jake Stevens, Portland

Stevens writes: “This is a dish we recently had on the menu at Leeward (albeit with farmed rather than wild fish). I love it because it combines a classic fine-dining seafood preparation (the celery root puree and brown butter) with a fish that combines my love of both Maine and Italy.

“Maine has the most robust population of wild, self-sustaining brook trout left in their historic range. On a recent trip to Italy, I saw trout on menus all over the Valle d’Aosta (a lesser travelled, mountainous region on the border of France and Switzerland). The overlap of ingredients is perfect for a Feast of the Seven Fishes here in Maine.”

Stevens recommends using wild Maine brook trout for this dish, caught on a fly-rod, if possible. Barring that, he said Mi’kmaq Farms in Caribou raises an “outstanding” farm-raised Maine brook trout.

Serves 6 as part of a larger feast

For the celery root puree:
2 large celery roots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus 1/4 cup for blending, if needed
1/2 cup butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

For the brown butter sauce:
1/4 cup butter
Half of a lemon
1/2 cup pitted green olives, torn in half (such as castelvetranos, cerignola, lucques or picholine)
1/4 cup pine nuts

For the brook trout:
2 whole brook trout (cleaned and gutted, spine and bones removed)
Olive oil for brushing
Salt to taste

To prepare the celery root puree, place the celery root cubes in a small sauce pot set over medium heat and cover with the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook until the celery root is soft (you should be able to easily smash the cubes with a fork), about 45 minutes. Drain the celery root; discard the milk.

Heat the cream just to a simmer in a small sauce pot and remove from heat. Place the celery root and the cream in a blender and blend on medium speed. (If the celery root struggles to blend, add a bit more cream.) While the blender is running, add the butter a couple pieces at a time until it is fully incorporated. Season to taste with salt.

To make the sauce, in a high-sided sauce pot (to avoid splatter), melt the butter over medium heat. As the butter starts to bubble and foam, swirl it constantly. The milk solids in the butter will start to brown and the butter will begin to smell toasty and nutty. Once the butter is golden brown, remove it from the heat and squeeze the juice from the lemon half into the pot. Do this off the heat and be careful, as the butter will want to bubble and splatter. Add the olives and pine nuts and set the brown butter sauce aside.

To make trout, prepare a gas or charcoal grill for high heat (or a grill pan or large cast-iron skillet if you don’t have a grill). Lightly brush the trout with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Gently lay the trout down on the grill. Let the trout cook on one side until the flesh inside the cavity starts turning opaque.

Flip the fish over with a flat metal spatula; if you try to flip the fish too early, you risk the skin sticking to the grill. Cook until the flesh on the other side turns opaque. I like to pull the fish off the heat when it hits an internal temperature of about 130 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. (The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.)

Re-warm the celery root puree and the brown butter sauce on the stove.

To assemble, spoon the warm celery root puree on a serving platter. Lay the trout on top. Spoon the warm brown butter sauce on top of the fish and serve.

Serve the bourride over rustic bread, to sop up the delicious juices. Photo by Nancy Harmon Jenkins


From food writer, cookbook author and Italian food expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Camden

Jenkins writes: “I confess that I’ve lived and traveled all over Italy for half a century or more and the first time I encountered the Feast of the Seven Fishes was right back here in the USA. Ask an Italian about it and you’ll get a typical Italian shrug that means: ‘I dunno! Ask me something else.’

“And yet, we love the happy idea that all over Italy families sit down on December 24th, La Vigilia, to a feast of seven different kinds of seafood, eating to their hearts’ content as they wait for the big feast next day.

“Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful idea, though a huge amount of work for a committed cook. I celebrate by serving some fish, but not seven different ones. In fact, one of my favorites for Christmas Eve is bourride, an aioli-laden fish stew, rich with garlic, which actually comes from Provence, very close to Italy. Apart from its lush flavors, a beauty of it is that bourride can feature as many fishes as you want to add to the pot. I’ve done it this time with hake mussels, and squid from the Gulf of Maine, plus shrimp from away. But start with smoked salmon and a plate of oysters, add chunks of swordfish to the stew, and you’re there – seven fishes!

“Bourride might seem complicated at first glance, but breaking it down into steps makes it easy. First, prepare a rich fish broth, which you can do even many days ahead and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook. Then make the aioli, which is quick and effortless with a food processor or blender. Next, assemble and cook your fish but keep it warm in the oven while you reduce the fish broth and blend it with the aioli. Finally, arrange everything on a heated platter and send it straight to the table.

“NB: The best fish mongers cut and fillet their fish themselves; they will have leftover racks, meaning bones and heads, offered at reduced prices. (Avoid any kind of oily fish, such as mackerel, tuna or salmon.) They also often have prepared fish broth, usually frozen; if you use that, bring it to a simmer with all the aromatics listed, including the vegetables, simmer for 10 minutes, then let steep to extract the flavors before you strain it and use it like the fish stock in the recipe.”

Serves 4-6

For the fish broth:

½ cup coarsely chopped yellow onion

1 fat leek, cleaned and sliced

½ cup coarsely chopped fennel

¼ cup coarsely chopped celery

¼ cup coarsely chopped carrots

2 tablespoons olive oil

Several sprigs of fresh thyme

One 4-inch strip orange rind

1 teaspoon dried fennel pollen or fennel seeds

2 bay leaves

About 2 pounds of fish heads and bones, leftover from cutting fillets

1 ½ cups dry white wine

1 ½ cups water – more if necessary

About a tablespoon of sea salt

For the aioli:

6-9 plump garlic cloves

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 egg and 1 egg yolk

1 ¼ cups extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus a little extra if needed

For the bourride:

1 pound fresh mussels

3 or 4 fresh squid, cleaned and sliced (leave the tentacles intact)

1 ¼ pounds hake, cut into 8 pieces (cod, haddock or other white fish may be used)

1 dozen fresh headless shrimp, peeled

To serve: quartered lemons, thin slices of rustic bread, toasted

To prepare the stock, combine the onion, leek, fennel, celery and carrots with the olive oil in a 4- or 5-quart casserole or stock pot and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until the vegetables start to soften, then stir in the thyme, orange rind, fennel pollen and bay leaves. Lay the fish bones and heads over the top and add the wine and enough water just to come to the tops of the fish, without submerging them. Add a tablespoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer gently for just 30 minutes, no more. (Unlike meat stock, fish stock can turn bitter with over-simmering.) Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve or a couple layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Discard the solids. You should have about 5 cups of strained broth. Return the strained stock to the rinsed-out pot.

While the stock is simmering, make the aioli: Chop the garlic cloves and crush them with the salt in a mortar. (Don’t have a mortar? Chop the garlic very fine and crush with the salt on a board, using the flat blade of a chef’s knife to make a paste.) Add the eggs to the bowl of a food processor and process briefly, then, with the feed tube open and the machine operating, slowly add the olive oil in a thin thread. When about half the oil has been added, the mix will be considerably thickened. Stop the machine and add the juice of half a lemon. This will thin out the aioli but it will come together again as you proceed with adding the rest of the oil. When it is as thick as mayonnaise (which is basically what aioli is), add the garlic paste and process again briefly just to blend the garlic in the mayo. (Don’t over blend or the garlic may turn bitter.) Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if it seems necessary. Set aside about ¾ cup of the aioli to be served at the table.

Rinse the mussels and combine them in a saucepan with about half a cup of strained broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook rapidly, 3 to 4 minutes, removing the mussels as they open up. Any that refuse to open should be discarded. Set the open mussels aside but keep them warm.

Return the strained broth to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the squid pieces and simmer just until they turn opaque – a couple of minutes is enough, keeping in mind that squid must be cooked for either a very short or a very long time; anything in the middle makes it tough. Remove the squid with a skimmer and set aside but keep warm.

Now add the fish pieces. Simmer just until the fish is done, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove with the skimmer and set aside but keep warm.

Finally, cook the shrimp, again just until they turn pink, 2 to 3 minutes depending on their size. Skim them out, set aside, and keep warm.

Continue simmering the stock, uncovered, for 10 to 20 minutes until it is reduced to about 2 ½ cups.

Now comes the only tricky part of the procedure, tempering the aioli. To do this, have the remaining aioli ready in a bowl. Slowly, whisking constantly, add in the simmering fish stock by quarter-cups until you’ve added at least a cup and can feel that the aioli is warm. (This keeps the aioli from seizing up when you combine it with the stock.) Once the aioli-stock mixture is warm, slowly, slowly, add it to the simmering stock, little by little, whisking constantly. Continue cooking and whisking as the stock begins to thicken into a sauce. Do not let it come to a boil – this is important. When the stock-sauce is thick and creamy, remove it from the heat and set aside.

Arrange all the seafood on a heated platter, and spoon the creamy sauce over everything. Add some lemon quarters, the toast, and, if you wish, some chopped flat-leaf parsley to brighten the presentation. Serve immediately, passing the reserved aioli. Guests should put a slice of toast in the bottom of a soup plate, add the seafood, with plenty of sauce, and dollop extra aioli on the top, squeezing a little lemon juice over it all.

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