The holiday season holds so many traditions and rituals dear to so many different cultures around the world. The holidays can mean many things to people around the world but the one thing everyone has in common in and that is celebrating friends and family with a festive feast. Often this means turkey but in some traditions, particularly Italian, Christmas Eve dinner means an all or partial, multi-course seafood feast.
Some households will prepare anywhere from 7 to 13 fishes as part of this meal - a daunting challenge for any home cook. Christmas Eve dinner can also mean many guests at your table as family and friends drop by before or after Christmas vigil church services. This presents a unique problem that hostesses don't usually face - how do you prepare a seafood menu for a crowd? It's easy on other holidays to cook up a turkey or roast when you expect a large number of guests. But many seafood recipes don't take well to advance preparation or large quantity cooking, particularly fried seafood dishes. That's why I recommend planning a menu that avoids the kind of last minute cooking that will keep the hostess tied to her stove during the dinner. You don't have to be Italian to serve fish this Christmas, just follow these helpful tips in preparing your feast in advance for your dinner to move smoothly through the night.
- Begin the meal with an easy appetizer such as shrimp cocktail that can (and should) be prepared hours in advance to permit adequate chilling time. Shrimp Puffs is a dish that can be prepared, frozen, and baked when your guests arrive.
- Follow your cold appetizer with a soup dish. Soups can be made in advance, and often benefit from chilling and reheating. My husband's family always served bacala (cod fish) soup on Christmas Eve. If you're looking for a similar recipe, this recipe for Hearty Alaska Cod Chowder might suit you perfectly. A deep south favorite is Gumbo around the holidays. It takes a little longer to prepare but is well worth the labor come Christmas Eve. This recipe from Bon Appétit includes shrimp, chicken and Andouille and is delightful.
- A seafood salad course is commonly part of the Christmas Eve menu. A refreshing Crab Salad, is a perfect dish to lighten up the lengthy Christmas Eve menu. This recipe can easily be multiplied and also takes little time to prepare in advance. Having some extra hands to help in the kitchen is a must in an Italian family.
- A pasta course might follow the soup in an Italian home. Pasta for a crowd can be tricky unless you're serving a baked dish that can be prepared ahead and baked in time for dinner. Seafood Lasagna is a great make-ahead dish for a crowd.
- I recommend preparing a baked fish recipe for your main course. Use fish fillets that will bake up quickly in the oven after the baked pasta is removed from it. The recipe should be one that can be assembled in advance and refrigerated prior to baking. You don't want something with citrus that will start to cook your fish before you bake it. This recipe for Baked Fish Fillets with Honey-Lemon Butter will serve 100 guests. Don't let that frighten you, it's a very easy recipe. To reduce the quantity, all you'll need is a calculator.