Southern Italy and Southern Alabama aren’t exactly neighbors. But perhaps we’re not so different.
That’s because Italians and Italian-Americans love their seafood, and it’s celebrated by many during the holiday season with the Feast of Seven Fishes.
This tasty tradition, which has roots in Catholicism, takes place every year on Christmas Eve and consists of seven delicious seafood dishes (or more, depending on who you ask).
Seems like a pretty great holiday tradition, if you ask us. Even the New York Times joined the party. So we thought that Alabama Gulf Seafood deserved a seat at the table.
We asked seven local chefs and Gulf seafood personalities what they’d bring to the proverbial table for the Alabama Gulf Seafood Feast of Seven Fishes. Even if you aren’t equipped to prepare all of them at once this Christmas Eve (though we hope you take photos if you do), we think you’ll find a dish or two to serve your family this winter.
Grab a seat and dig in.
Chris Blankenship, director of Alabama Marine Resources and program administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission – Oysters Ala’ Bama™
My wife and I host her entire family for lunch on Christmas. This year I’m serving something new. My friend Bob Baumhower has started serving a dish called Oysters Ala’ Bama™. It’s a layered dish cooked in a cast-iron cornbread muffin pan. The bottom layer is home-cooked collard greens topped with thick-cut bacon with an oyster on top of the bacon and finished off with a four-cheese mix. The dish is broiled for a few minutes to melt the cheese and slightly cook the oyster. There are very few dishes more Southern than one with collards, bacon, and oysters! I’m looking forward to sharing this dish with the family this year.
James Boyce, chef and owner of Cotton Row in Hunstville and Galley And Garden in Birmingham – Royal Red Shrimp
Royal Red Shrimp season is amongst us—very exciting! With the festivities here, we get caught up with traditional dishes. This is why we take these beautiful shrimp and cook them with yellow curry, tofu, and broccoli served over basmati rice. It has become a favorite dish during the holidays. Our family loves it!
Bill Briand, executive chef of Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina – West Indies Salad
My family loves crabmeat, so I use jumbo lump crab. I marinate with red onions, cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and ice and let sit for up to 10 hours. I add lemon zest and chiffonade of fresh mint once it’s ready. I serve with homemade soda crackers and I finish the salad with grated Florida Botargo (cured mullet roe). It never lasts very long at the dinner table!
Johnny Caradine, of Evan’s Meats in Birmingham – Alabama Ocean-Farmed Oysters
When asked what seafood I would bring to the Feast of Seven Fishes, I thought about all the great seafood that comes out of the Gulf. Why seven fish? Well, the symbolical/biblical meaning for the number seven is “perfection.” For me, the most perfect protein comes out of the Gulf of Mexico. With that being said, I would bring Alabama ocean-farmed oysters. They are about as perfect of an oyster as I have had in my 30 years in the seafood industry.
Martie Duncan, of “Food Network Star” and Martie Knows Parties – Citrus Pickled Shrimp
Growing up, my mom started the tradition of serving shrimp for Christmas Eve. She’d boil the shrimp and make her own spicy cocktail sauce with fresh horseradish and serve in those old-fashioned Champagne saucers with a bit of lettuce lining the glass and lemon wedges—just like fancy restaurants. I thought that was just so elegant. Since my mom passed away, we’ve preserved the tradition of having shrimp for Christmas Eve. With my busy schedule, I serve my Citrus Pickled Shrimp because I can make it up to 24 hours ahead. I sometimes make it with a holiday flare by substituting a few orange wheels for some of the lemon and adding a splash of orange liqueur to make it a bit more festive.
Jim Smith, executive chef for the state of Alabama – Flounder
For me, Alabama Flounder is the perfect fish for the holidays. The light, flaky texture makes it great for a variety of cooking techniques. From whole fried with hot sauce to sautéed with butter and herbs, Flounder is certain to be a crowd-pleaser. It is a fish that embodies and reflects the Alabama Gulf Coast with its flavor and is one fish that I am always proud to serve.
Wesley True, independent chef – Swordfish
Since having a baby, my whole view on food as a chef is changing. I am devoting more time to my house and family. I would prepare Swordfish with a fresh herb sauce. It is simplistic and beautiful, which is a nice reflection of my new lifestyle.