Food & Drink

Celebrate Feast of the Seven Fishes

Southern Italy meets the South in a scrumptious holiday tradition

photo: Courtesy of Pomodori Italian Eatery


On Christmas Eve, the scene at Shannon Tinnell’s household in Morgantown, West Virginia, looks like this: “Folks are outside grilling oysters and drinking beer and limoncello, someone’s inside cooking pasta, someone is frying smelt, and I’m trying to find someone else a place to sit. It’s chaos, and it’s home.” It’s also the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an annual celebration for her family, and for many other Italian-Americans. 

The custom is rooted in Southern Italy, where Catholic families have long served a seafood spread over the holidays. No one is quite sure if the meal represents the seven sacraments, deadly sins, or if it was simply inspired by an available abundance. The menu can be comprised of any kind of seafood—from oysters and scallops to shrimp, squid, or sardines. Italian-Americans continued the tradition here, especially in Appalachian mountain towns where immigrants congregated, and over time, many of the feasts became festivals. Each December, Fairmont, a small community about 20 minutes outside of Morgantown, hosts one of West Virginia’s biggest feasts, and anyone, regardless of heritage, can enjoy. Tinnell and her husband, Robert Tinnell, are co-hosts.  

Come Christmas Eve, they’ll do it all again. And no matter what, there’s always more than enough to go around. “My husband always asks why we have so much Tupperware,” Tinnell says. “But you always send food home with people. That sense of hospitality is both an Italian thing and a Southern thing.” 

You don’t have to wait for a festival to experience the feast. We asked seven Southern cooks and chefs to share seafood dishes that bring together the best of the South and the Italian holiday. Get the recipes below:

 

Broiled Oysters with Chile Butter
Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman
Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Memphis, Tennessee

>Get the recipe

  Grilled Sardines with Raisin-Sherry Vinaigrette 
Pat Pascarella, The White Bull
Decatur, Georgia

>Get the recipe

Garlic-Lemon Shrimp 
Ralph Brennan, Brennan’s
New Orleans, Louisiana

>Get the recipe

  Roasted Halibut with Pickled Vegetables
Michael Kramer, Jianna
Greenville, South Carolina
>Get the recipe

  Stuffed Calamari
Shannon Tinnell
Morgantown, West Virginia
>Get the recipe

  Scallops over Penne in Vodka Sauce
Amanda Russ, Pomodori
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
>Get the recipe

  Steamed Gulf Snapper
Vincenzo Betulia, Osteria Tulia
Naples, Florida
>Get the recipe


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