Here in the UK, we’re used to the biggest meal of the festive season being the Christmas Day spread – a large roasted bird surrounded by spuds, Brussels, gravy and all the trimmings. For some of our European neighbours, however, a Christmas Eve supper is the main event and sees fish taking over from turkey as the centrepiece.
This Christmas Eve fish-fest stems from the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on holy days. Families across many European countries come together to enjoy several courses of meat-free food followed by presents and celebrations, making 24 December the real focus of the festivities.
In Italy, it really is a feast, with many households preparing The Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as The Vigil, which features a mighty seven different fish courses. Popular dishes range from region to region but often include a hearty fish stew, salt cod, and fried calamari or fritto misto.
In Poland, the Christmas Eve supper, Wigilia, begins after the first star appears in the sky and often goes on late into the night. This meat-free meal usually includes a spread of beetroot soup, pickled herrings and pierogi (traditional dumplings stuffed with potato and cheese).
Whatever your location, culture or traditions, beautiful seafood is something many of us consider to be a really special supper – so it seems fitting to enjoy it the night before Christmas. With mega roast dinners and days of turkey curry and ham sandwiches ahead, it’s also a great way to enjoy a lighter start to the festive period.
If you’re hosting this Christmas Eve and want to dip your toe in the waters of this fishy tradition, check out some of our favourite meat-free meal ideas…
FISHY FEASTS FOR BIG PARTIES
Or, do as the Scandinavians do with boards of beautiful cured fish – this Christmas jerk gravadlax is seriously easy, and something you can prep in advance. Serve up as part of a buffet spread with lots of rye bread, beetroot salad and bowls of hot potatoes.
A FUSS-FREE FAMILY SUPPER
If you know you’ve got a hectic Christmas Eve coming up, full of cooking, shopping and wrapping, you can still enjoy a good old fish feast – just get ahead with these simple recipes. Jools’ fish pie is perfect for preparing in advance and storing in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to pop it in the oven.
For a fuss-free dessert, serve these nutty, chewy everything cookies in front of the fire or around a board game with a glass of sherry for the adults and milk for the little ones.
A seafood cocktail is an old-school classic. This one is piled high with fresh prawns and crab and makes a brilliant dinner party starter.
Then, for a wow-worthy centrepiece, try this whole roasted salmon stuffed with lemon and herbs with homemade basil mayo and chilli salsa. Baking salmon in a thick layer of rock salt not only looks incredible – you’ll also end up with the most perfectly cooked fish. Alternatively, this sea bass in puff pastry stuffed with prawns and served with salsa verde is perfect for smaller dinner parties. Serve with steamed and buttered greens or any of these beautiful Christmas sides.