One out of seven
You may or may not be celebrating Christmas, and you may or may not be doing it with a traditional Italian spread of seven fishes, but one thing is certain: it’s nice to have a bunch of fancy fish dishes during the holidays. You could be going whole-hog (whole-fish?) and doing Christmas lobsters or a big cioppino; you could be having a couple of latkes topped with sour cream and a sheath of smoked salmon; you may, if you’re lucky, be popping a tin of caviar on New Year’s Eve. Any way you do it, it’s a unique holiday treat.
I like to approximate the seven fishes tradition on Christmas, although whether it happens on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (or if it actually tallies the complete seven) is usually in flux. But no matter; rules are meant to be broken. I also like to concentrate the maritime goods ahead of dinner, as I think it’s nice to have a pleasantly fishy cocktail hour before the main event. To that end, here are some suggestions you can use any which way through New Year’s:
An assortment of shellfish on ice — a classic and foolproof way to get your fish numbers up
Chips with creme fraiche and smoked trout roe, or a smoked fish dip like the one below
Shrimp cocktail (I consider this distinct from the shellfish, out of respect for shrimp cocktail)
High-quality anchovies on bite-sized toast with a large pat of butter
A salad with a garlicky anchovy vinaigrette (not a cocktail hour dish, but it still counts!)
For your holiday spread, the recipe this week is a smoked salmon dip that pairs perfectly with some chips or crackers. I adapted and tweaked this from Le Bernardin’s salmon rillettes (mine is not better), which I first made a few years back. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about this dip — perhaps the smoky fat of the salmon, or perhaps something more ephemeral — that is particularly festive. I highly recommend including it in your seven fish army this Christmas.
Smoked Salmon Rillettes
Serves roughly 5-6 for light bites
1 hot-smoked salmon filet; this can also be any type of smoked fish (trout, whitefish, etc.), or it can be a poached salmon filet if smoked isn’t your style
1 cup chopped Nova smoked salmon or lox
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise or creme fraiche
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 small shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Chives, finely chopped
Remove the smoked salmon filet from the package and roughly break it apart in a bowl.
Add the Nova, mayo, Dijon, shallot, vinegar, capers, and chives. Mix until it reaches a mousse-like consistency. Add a bit more mayo or a touch of water if it’s too dry.
Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with additional chives, caperberries, or cucumber slices.
Serve in a small bowl; I like to pair this with Cape Cod potato chips and/or everything bagel crackers. You could also do pita chips, small slices of brioche, or rice crackers.