"Thank you for the food we eat, and thank you especially for the fish because it’s my favorite. Amen." – Rolley Len’s Holiday Grace
Over the years, when my grandmother, and then later my mother, would host Christmas Eve dinner, they would usually have the traditional turkey as the main dish. But they also tried to have something a little different, too. From pizza to barbecue ribs, additional entrees came and went. This year, fish will be added to the menu because, not only is it a favorite of both my family and Jason’s, fish is actually a part of many families’ traditional winter holiday meals.
Just as some people fast or maintain a limited diet in observance of religious holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Lent, there are people who don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve. Some families who choose to avoid meat during the holidays celebrate Christmas or New Year’s with The Feast of the Seven Fishes. Cooks prepare a variety of fish and other seafood dishes instead of meat or poultry. If you decide to serve fish, not only would this give your family a wide array of options but, for those family members whose resolution is to eat healthier in the New Year, serving a feast of fish can show even the pickiest eater that healthy can also be delicious.
To create a buffet of fish and seafood, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. You can get fresh fish from the Gulf, or you can go to nearby lakes, rivers and creeks, and catch fish like catfish, bass and bream. One of the Kirk family’s friends Wade Davis, who lives at Lake Martin, goes to Madwin Creek and Manoy Creek to catch redhorse suckers. He and his son catch them from the middle of March to the middle of April, during a three-week period. During this time, the fish are spawning, laying their eggs in the shallows of the creek.
Instead of fishing with poles or lines, two or three people walk up the creek stepping into the three- or four-foot holes along the bottom. The redhorse suckers swim out of the holes running from the fishermen. The fish swim into the shallow flats where they can be scooped up with a net or by hand. Children may use a net to catch the fish, while adults may catch them by hand. How many you catch will vary. In one spot, there may only be a few; while up the creek, 15 or more may be caught.
Wade and his son bring their catch back and filet the fish, cut it into nugget-size pieces, and pack the fish into pint jars within a half-inch from the top. He then adds one teaspoon of lemon juice, a half teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of ketchup and a teaspoon of vegetable oil (optional). All of these ingredients are placed directly on top of the fish, but not mixed. The tablespoon of ketchup doesn’t add flavor, but adds color giving it the hue of salmon. The jar is then put into a pressure cooker on 20 pounds for 40 minutes.
The average weight of a redhorse sucker is one to two pounds. So one fish could serve several people depending on how you prepare it. Once cooked, it can be made into numerous dishes. It can be used like other canned fish such as tuna or salmon to make salads, fish cakes or fish loaves.
For your holiday leftovers, try the fish flakes and crumbs recipe below, but in smaller proportions. It reminds me of my mother mixing eggs over-easy with saltines, salt and pepper. You can make it for breakfast or a light lunch, and it is both delicious and affordable.
Whether you use Gulf seafood or freshwater fish, this winter serve your family and friends your own version of The Feast of the Seven Fishes at your next holiday meal.
EASY CAMP FISH CAKES
2 cups fish, flaked
½ cup of bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix well all ingredients except flour. Make fish patties, lightly dust with flour and pan fry.
FANCIER FISH CAKES
2 cups fish
3 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup white sauce (recipe below)
For white sauce:
1 cup milk
3 Tablespoons flour
2-3 Tablespoons butter or margarine
Soften the butter or margarine over low heat. Blend in flour and milk thoroughly. Heat to a boil, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.
Flake the fish. Add parsley, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and white sauce. Blend well and chill. Shape into croquettes, roll in bread crumbs, dip in egg to which a little water has been added, and roll again in crumbs. Pan fry in oil for 3-5 minutes. Drain on absorbent paper.
FISH FLAKES AND CRUMBS
2 cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cups crackers, coarsely crushed
2 eggs, beaten
2 pounds cold fish, flaked
Heat milk with seasonings and butter. Stir in crackers until all ingredients are wet, stirring as little as possible. Add eggs and heat until eggs are cooked. Add fish and stir until fish is heated.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.