Baccala Salad for the Feast of the Seven Fishes

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by Chris on December 18, 2011

pasto a base di pesce/fish dinner

As an Italian, I have always been fascinated with The Feast of the Seven Fishes, la vigilia, a feast on Christmas Eve.  It began because of the Roman Catholic Church’s declaration that eating meat was only supposed to happen on specific holy days, and there are several theories behind the “seven”.  I choose to believe the theory that the seven fish represent the seven sacraments. It brings me back to a happy time, when my family did things together, like church, dinners and holidays. Although I can’t remember the last time we participated in an evening designated solely for consuming fish and pasta dishes, the thought of making it happen is so very appealing.

To be honest, I don’t think our family ever prepared the full regalia. My grandmothers may have, back in the day, and my family definitely included some fish (usually shrimp or lobster) in our holiday meals, but the southern Italian tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes did not come to fruition in my Northern Italy household; we did our own thing. As an adult, it is about high time I get with the program and bring the feast back to light, especially since I am no longer the little girl who shuttered at the thought of anything fish.  Plus, I have been toying with the a Seven Fishes series since I began this blog and need to follow through with my fishy thoughts that would work throughout a Christmas Eve evening.

Wanting to move forward with a Mele Cotte Feast, jotting down ideas and chatting with my mother about the dishes in my family, I had a sign that it was the right time when I picked up the December issue of Saveur Magazine, the special Italian America feature. As I read, page by page, I became nostalgic and missed the days when our family celebrated together. One of the recipes the magazine included was a Baccala Salad. One of my mom’s favorite, I decided to make the salad the first dish and learn why it is desired by so many.

Now, I know. The saltiness of the fish and capers, combined with the sweetness of the pimentos, and the hint of red pepper heat made my taste buds dance like the Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Snowflakes.

What are your Holiday traditions?  Is fish part of your dinner menu?

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The Teacher Cooks December 18, 2011 at 5:24 PM

This dish sounds perfect!! I love pimento, olives, capers, and with fish it has to be a grat combination.

Kate December 19, 2011 at 5:37 AM

Every Christmas growing up I would spend with my friend’s Italian family. They did the million course Christmas, but I don’t remember any fish other than scungili!

olives health benefits December 21, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Great picture and recipe, I like salad, but I never try the baccala salad, it look healthy and delicious. I hope I can make it for my family in this new year

Chris December 26, 2011 at 6:41 PM

Thanks! I hope you’re able to make it as well. You’ll be hooked.

Nancy December 14, 2012 at 12:32 PM

My grandfather made this every Christmas eve and it is a wonderful and delicious memory. I remember my grandparents fussing over this in the kitchen as well as the calamari and marinara. It was an important part of our celebration. I never really knew why except that you didn’t eat meat on Christmas eve. My mother’s family came from Naples. I am going to make this for my family and friends this Christmas eve to honor my Italian heritage.

John December 18, 2012 at 6:03 PM

There seems to be a huge dispute over how long/much to cook the baccala. Some recipes say to simmer for five minutes or so and never to boil, and this one has a total of 60(?) minutes cooking. Likewise there seems to be a dispute over how long to soak the dried cod. Some recipes say 12 hours, some days. Last year I soaked 2 days and cooked ten minutes. I am going to cut to soaking time a bit this year.

My father used to make this every Christmas, and I’m tying to get it so the rest of the family thinks mine is as good as his. Last year I tried adding some sun dried tomatoes, and I liked it – others didn’t. Many recipes add fresh basil. Dad was a big fan of basil but didn’t use it in his baccala salad. I haven’t yet, but might try a little this year. The amount of olive oil used in recipes varies a lot from 3 tablespoons to a full cup in some recipes per two pounds of fish. Likewise, the lemon juice varies. The chili is new to me and sounds great, but I don’t think would go too well with my family.

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