Like I promised, a new day brings a new recipe from Christmas Eve. To pay homage to my Italian heritage, and also to tip our hat to the country we were married in, we wanted to try our hand at the 7 Fishes tradition. The Feast of the 7 Fishes (called La Vigilia in Italy after the wait for Jesus’ birthday at midnight, or Vigilia di Natale) is celebrated by every Italian. The number seven is important with Catholics (and in religion in general) as it represents many things – the 7 Sacraments, 7 Days of Creation, the Sabbath is on the 7th day, and 7 represents perfection for Catholics. There’s also the 7 Deadly Sins, the 7 Virtues and the 7 Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That’s a lot of sevens!
Anywho’s, we may not have had 7 Fishes this Christmas Eve, but we did 5 fishes and did two of the 2 different ways. In my mind, that’s like doing seven, right? I now bring to you our first fish course – Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood). It was absolutely delicious, but pacing the cooking correctly was a bit frustrating. I would advise have 3-4 pots of scalding hot oil going at the same time as to hasten the cooking time – especially if you are going to be cooking for 10 or more people at the same time. Remember to separate all the seafood from the vegetables if you are doing both. The oil can often take on the fish taste and you don’t want your crunchy asparagus tasting like smelts – or do you? Whatever floats your boat! I highly recommend making this for a group of friends – it’s fun, bite-sized and delicious. We served ours with a homemade Roasted Garlic Lemon Aioli as a dipping sauce. It is lighter than you think, even though it’s all fried! Come on, the Italians are not the ones with a nationwide obesity epidemic!
The recipe below fed 11 people as a starter, albeit a pretty good-sized starter. You can add/take away stuff as you’d like.
FRITTO MISTO DI MARE WITH ROASTED GARLIC LEMON AIOLI (Fried Mixed Seafood with Fried Mixed Veggies)
- 1/2 lb shrimp
- 1/2 lb. squid (bodies and tentacles), cut into rings
- 1 fillet of whitefish (sole, flounder, etc.), cut into 1 inch pieces
- 6 large smelts (heads removed), cut into 1 inch pieces and soaked in milk for 1 hour prior to frying (takes some of the fishy smell away) OR whole sardines
- 1/4 head of cauliflower, blanched, sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 8 asparagus stalks, woody bottom removed, blanched and the rest cut into 1 inch pieces
- 6-8 large button mushrooms, quartered
- 1 whole zucchini, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 small eggplant, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
- Peanut Oil for frying (has a high smoke point and burns less easily – traditionally this should be fried in olive oil)
- (Optional but preferred) Cast Iron Skillet for frying
- paper towels or brown paper bag for draining
- Kosher Salt
- Lemon Wedges
For the Fritto Misto Batter:
- 1/2 cup white flour
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (seasalt or kosher salt preferably)
- soda water or sparkling water
For the Roasted Garlic Lemon Aioli
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon horseradish
- juice from 1 fresh lemon
- 2 egg yolks
- extra virgin olive oil
What to do:
- Make your Lemon Garlic Aioli as early as 1 or 2 days ahead. Roast garlic in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool. In a glass mixing bowl, add your roasted garlic (squeeze it out of the skin), 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon horseradish, 2 egg yolks, pinch of salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Mix with a whisk. After that is mixed up, slowly add olive oil and continue to whisk feverishly until it starts to get thick. Eventually you’ll have added enough oil to make a mayonnaise. Taste and add some more salt if you would like and add about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Always taste to make sure the seasonings are to your liking!
- Make sure you prep your hard veggies (asparagus and cauliflower) by boiling them for 1 to 2 minutes and shocking them in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.
- Make your batter by combining all your dry ingredients first, mixing and then adding enough sparkling water for it to be slightly thin. You want it to coat your veggies and fish, but you do not want it so thick that it resembles spackle. Make it like a thin pancake batter. Add more flour if you mess up. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
- After all your veggies are prepped, pour enough peanut oil into your skillets or pots (you should have one for frying veggies and one for frying the seafood) to almost cover your ingredients – about 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep. Whack your heat up to high. When you stick the end of a wooden spoon in and there are bubbles all around it, your oil is probably ready.
- Start with your blanched asparagus. Put pieces in the batter and allow some of the batter to drip off before placing each piece in the oil. Do this with each piece and allow to fry until golden brown. After all the asparagus is done, remove from oil using a slotted spoon and allow it drain on some paper towels and immediately sprinkle with a good amount of kosher salt. Next, do your cauliflower, then mushroom quarters, etc. till you have fried all of your veggies.
- Repeat with all your fish. The ONLY exception to the “cook till golden brown” rule should be for the squid/calamari. They really should not be cooked more than 2 minutes or else they’ll be chewy. Allow them all to drain on paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt as well.
- Serve mixed up on a big platter with your lemon/garlic aioli in a serving dish on the side. Serve with lemon wedges and some nice wine!