Make like a European and opt for these fish or seafood recipes this Christmas Eve.

Whether you plump for turkey or goose on the big day, Christmas – unless you’re vegetarian or vegan – is a feast that goes heavy on the meat. Yes, there’s the bird, but then there’s the layering of bacon on the turkey’s back, the stuffing, the pigs-in-blankets, the chipolatas, the mini sausage roll snacks dotted about the house – and on the list goes. It stands to reason then, that on Christmas Eve, many of us would prefer something a little lighter, and perhaps, a little healthier in preparation for onslaught the following day.

Why not, then, make like our European cousins and go for traditional fish on the night before Christmas (the idea follows a long-standing Roman Catholic tradition of eschewing meat prior to a feast day). Your tummy will doubtless thank you, even if you do wash it all down with a couple of glasses of light white wine or fizz (it is Christmas, after all).

Salt-baked Whole Fish

Food & Wine


If you’re entertaining on Christmas Eve, little looks so festive or impressive as a whole baked fish. Happily, it is minimal on the effort too, for maximum rewards. This recipe, from the reliably excellent Food & Wine, recommends choosing branzino, black bass or striped bass – but ensuring that your fishmonger has done all the cleaning and scaling for you. That aside, all you need is sea salt – which seals in the moisture – plus eggs, olive oil parsley, garlic and lemon. Serve it up with a light salad and an even lighter dry white wine, such as an ice-cold vinho verde, and you’re set.

Lobster Thermidor

James Martin


How often do you serve up lobster at home? For most of us, the answer is pretty much never. But this is the season to treat those you love – and yourself – and we can’t think of many better ways to do that than with a Christmas Eve lobster feast, whether it’s a deux, or for the wider family. We love James Martin’s thermidor recipe, which is surprisingly simple and totally festive. He suggests making your own chips, but we have enough on our plate already with Christmas, so it’s likely to be some better quality oven-ready ones for us. Luxurious yet earthy, this recipe does, however, require something sparkling to wash it down.

Fish Stew

Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo


You’ll need a medley of fresh fish fillets and shellfish for this one, but we can attest to the fact that it’s worth it. As befits its source – from two of the most legendary Italian chefs, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo – this is the definitive guide to doing Christmas Eve the Italian way. Rich yet somehow light, serve it up with good quality though slightly stale bread and a glass of Viognier.

Fillet of Sea Bass with Parma Ham, Saute Artichokes and Watercross

Matthew Tompkinson


Sure, it’s not a chuck-it-all-together affair this, but if you have the time (two and a half hours of it) and inclination, this dish is as pretty as a picture. It doesn’t strictly eschew meat – Parma ham is hard to resist at any time of year – but the onus here is on the line-caught sea bass and the exquisite salad. The perfect thing to serve for an intimate dinner with your inamorata.

Nursery Fish Pie

Nigella


You can always rely on Nigella for incomparable comfort food; simply no one does it like the high priestess of soothing, easy-to-assemble dishes that feed the soul. Her fish pie recipe is one such. We eat it throughout the year, but what could be better than this on Christmas Eve – either served with a simple green salad and a glass of red at the table, or shovelled into bowls to eat on the sofa in front of your 102nd viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. It truly is (a wonderful life, that is) with nostalgic classics such as this.

Linguine With Clams

Epicurious


We could – and indeed, we do – eat this one all year round. It’s the mark of a truly winning dish that it can be just effective al fresco in the height of summer as when consumed curled up by the log burner in the run-up to Christmas. Light yet satisfying, it is both quick and easy to make while looking impressive (clams reliably make the simplest of dishes look pretty). Whether family and friends are descending for Christmas Eve, or it’s a smaller, cosier affair, this is a brilliantly tasty seafood dish for the night before the main festivities.

Easy Butter and Herb Baked Oysters

The Spruce Eats


Oysters are the Marmite of the seafood world; those who love do so with a vehemence equal only to those who loathe. Happily, we reside in the first camp, and will take ours any which way. If you’re planning to serve up these showstoppers of the seafood world at Christmas, we recommend baking them with butter, panko breadcrumbs and lots of zesty lemon. With minimal effort, it takes them from the ideal summer night dish served on ice to something wintry and comforting, all whilst looking absolutely sublime. Haters are going to hate, but we love them unreservedly.

Loch Fyne Haddock Bake

Mary Berry


Is Mary Berry the most reassuring woman on the planet? She’s certainly up there. We love the simplicity and cool confidence of her recipes, and this Loch Fyne haddock bake is no exception. It’s hearty, it’s comforting, it’s delicious, it can be made ahead of time and it feeds the five thousand (well not quite, but nearly). One to eat while lolling about in your slippers and wrapping the last of the presents. Be sure to leave a bite for the big man himself when he shimmies down your chimney.

Fried Calamari

The Fork Bite


It’s quite a claim, but The Fork Bite says that what follows is ‘the best calamari recipe ever’. We’re willing to take a punt; it is, after all, one of those dishes that lives or dies by the ratio of outer crunch to inner chewiness. Whip up the aioli too and you have the perfect seafood appetiser for Christmas Eve feasting.

Mussels Fra Diavolo

Food and Wine


The esteemed author of this recipe for mussels ‘fra Diavolo’ (from the devil) suggests it’s a summer dish. We say, don’t confine it to those few short weeks of the year. Mussels always look festive, and the tomato paste, white wine and oregano additions make this rendition suitably warming for Christmas Eve. Plus, crucially, they’re light enough to allow you to make the most of the ensuing over-abundance of food the next day.

Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce

Brown Eyed Baker


Crab cakes are an unfailingly elegant little dish that balance the lightness of the crab meat itself with the more substantial potato, making it a great option for a winter’s meal that’s filling while not going too heavy. There are quite a lot of ingredients in this one, so it takes a little prep at the shopping stage, but the making itself is quick and none too onerous. A glass of Vinho Verde is the ideal accompaniment.

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By Nancy Alsop
December 2019