Alright people here we go, we’re down to the last few days of my culinary vacation. I think we can all agree that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are “holy grail” or the “big dance” of Christmas break cooking. I love, love, love, holiday cooking, for several reasons. One is that since we’re making SO much food, I usually have a partner or two in the kitchen with me (as much as I love cooking, sometimes I get lonely in there.) Another reason is that it’s socially acceptable to drink champagne all day, which is always a good thing. But my favorite thing about holiday cooking is that it’s a time to pull out ALL the stops, get the best ingredients, use my fancy tricks, and just generally go to town with all my ideas, inspirations, and grandiose plans. Well almost go to town…
Now if you’ve been reading carefully for the past two months you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I cook a lot of Italian, live with an Italian, and secretly want to be Italian, and Christmas Eve is no exception. When I started dating Matt I learned about this magical thing Italians do on Christmas Eve known as “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.” For dinner on December 24th they literally eat SEVEN (SEVEN!) different kinds of fish. My immediate response when I first heard about this was “Oh my god that’s better than PRESENTS!” Last year I pitched the idea to my mom when we were menu planning for Christmas Eve. She shot it down, with the standard “that’s too much food for five people.” Ugh blast!
I tried again this year, but was unsuccessful. I may have lost the battle, but I’m determined to win the war. You see I’m making progress, we traditionally only have two types of fish on Christmas Eve, this year I got it up to three. Next year maybe I’ll sneak in another one in, and then before you know it I’ll be up to seven! I won’t rest until our Christmas Eve table is brimming with seafood.
Despite totally having my dreams crushed, I still managed to pull together a sumptuous (although modest) Christmas Eve seafood dinner. For the first course, we had our standard oyster stew. My mom has been making oyster stew on Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember. Despite my take over nearly every aspect of Christmas (back in the 90s I outlawed colored lights, tinsel, and the standard red and white stockings in favor of a decor scheme that my brother hatefully refers to as “Pottery Barn Christmas”) I have, however, left this one tradition in tact. Reason being, it’s the most sinfully decadent soup you’ve ever had, and yet it’s so simple to make. I love oysters and I love cream, and oyster stew is a delicious intersection of these two ingredients. I love the way oysters pop in your mouth and the cream how the cream balances out the briny flavor of the oysters. It is a very rich soup, so it works well paired with a meal of light seafood. After the soup, we had crab cakes over an herb salad dressed with a citrus and grapeseed oil vinaigrette. Sometimes, I’m not a big crab cake fan, more often than not they are all cake and no crab. Or even if they have enough crab they are kind of one note and you need to douse them in aoili to spice them up. That’s the wonderful thing about cooking, you can make things exactly to your liking. For these crab cakes I used lots of strong herbs in the crab cake mixture, as well as panko bread crumbs. Despite wanting my cakes to be extra crabby, one of the best parts of crab cakes is that crispy fried outside. I achieved that by using a small amount of panko when forming the cakes, but then pressing them in additional panko before frying them. I can’t take credit for coming up with this method, but it’s officially my new favorite way to make crab cakes.
Finally we had seared scallops over champagne risotto with asparagus and pancetta. I love to make this risotto recipe for Christmas because the crispy pancetta and asparagus are Christmas colors, and it looks so festive! The scallops were a nice complement and since they were being paired with a somewhat complex risotto I kept the preparation simple. The fool-proof way to do scallops is melt a good amount of butter in a really hot frying pan, dry the scallops completely, add them to the melted butter and let them seer (don’t move them) for 3 to 5 minutes, until they have a nice crisp seer on the outside. Flip them over and repeat. By the time they are browned on either side they will be cooked throughout.
The meal was great and was made even greater by the Cakebread Chardonnay my dad pulled out for the occasion. After dinner I started preparations for the cinnamon buns we would have in the morning and I let them rise over night. I went to bed full food and full of anticipation to see what Santa would bring me the next morning!!
4 tbsp. butter
1 pint oysters
1 quart half and half
Salt and Pepper
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add oysters and cook just until the edges are curled. Add the cream and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season and serve with oyster crackers.
2 lb. sea scallops
4 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup dry sherry
Pat scallops dry with a clean towel. Melt butter in a large frying pan. Add scallops and sear on each side for 3 to 5 minutes. If desired add sherry and de-glaze the pan and baste the scallops with the liquid.