Christmas Food Traditions

Our traditional Christmas feast is similar to a Sunday roast, but a more elaborate affair. The plate is piled high with various meats, vegetables, potatoes and gravy and there’s always a box of chocolates waiting after the food coma.

The beauty of cooking fish is simply that it’s quick to cook, easy to prepare and a delight to eat. It is a complete contrast to other traditional Christmas foods. Christmas cake needs a months preparation in order for it to be ready in time, the turkey is large and has a long cooking time and the nut roast usually has an abundance of ingredients. With a fish, what you see is what you get.

Freshly caught fish
Catch of the Day: From the sea to your plate. Easy.

In many countries in Europe, it is traditional to enjoy a large meal with family and friends on Christmas Eve. These meals, however, although beautiful, filling and special, are predominantly vegetarian or fish-centred meals. These meals are light, fresh but still warming way to enjoy the start of the festive season.

Refraining from meat on holy days stems from Roman Catholic traditions. This tradition stems back to around the 13th century[1] with Christmas Eve being the final day of the fast. Many European countries are predominantly Roman Catholic or still adhere to Catholic traditions, which includes Italy, France, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania.

There are several Christmas Eve traditions based on fish dishes such as Wigilia, a 12-course feast from Poland. The 12 dishes represent the 12 Apostles and the 12 months of the year[2]. The feast starts by breaking wafters known as oblatek, symbolising the sacredness of the feast, followed by a soup such as borscht and then cold and hot fish dishes including fish soups, fried fish, creamed fish and fish salads.

Further West in countries such as Portugal, salted fish, such as cod, is enjoyed as a main meal and is similar to the Italian tradition Baccala, which is salted cod, and eaten with other plates of fried eel and shellfish.

Feast on Fish

Try these fishy dishes for your Christmas Eve festivities and start a new tradition.

Carp

The most popular fish served during the 12 courses of Wigilia is the carp. This fish is a commercially popular fish and is the centrepiece of many central and Eastern European dishes. Carp is available in this country, if you can’t get a hold of it from your local fishmonger, try another type of oily, fatty fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel.

Row of carp fish
Ready to catch a carp? Carp fishing is popular in the UK but is slowly building a culinary following

For a traditional Polish affair, bake the fish whole in stock and decorate with vegetables such as carrots, mushrooms, eggs and lemon slices. Serve it hot.

Herring

A fish popular in the Nordic regions, Eastern Europe as well as Scotland and Eastern England.

Herrings are caught locally along the North Sea coast, which is great if you’re looking for sustainable, low food-miles foods for your dinner table. There is a lot of history concerning the fishing industry, in particular, herring, in Northumberland and Scottish Borders. Many fishing communities such as Craster, Seahouses and Eyemouth still produce world-renowned seafood.

Craster kippers curing
Try the famous Craster Kippers for your Christmas Eve feast

The herring is a cheap fish, much cheaper than its more popular fish friends, salmon and haddock! Fresh herring doesn’t keep for very long, so try to buy as close as you can to the preparation day.

To enjoy a more British herring meal, source kippers from L Robson & Sons. Grill the fillets in plenty of butter for around 10 minutes. Plate up and serve with lemon and brown toast. Alternatively, try the German-inspired Rollmops. Homemade rollmops are best if you want to get the benefits of the fish. Make a salt water brine and put in the herring fillets for a few hours, then pour over a marinade. Popular marinades have a mustard and citrus base. It’s all personal preference. Marinade for a few days in the fridge. For serving roll the fillets and serve with rye bread, fresh lemon wedges and a potato salad.

Salmon

Many people will be enjoying smoked salmon at some point around the holidays. It is a common brunch food, but can also be enjoyed as a starter before the Christmas main event. However, why not try smoked salmon’s cousin gravadlax. It is a traditional Nordic dish

It has alternative spellings which you may have come across including gravlax, gravlaks or gravad laks.

Gravadlax can easily be made at home; you just need to allow time for the fish to cure. Asides from the salmon, the rest of the ingredients are pantry staples such as salt, sugar and dill; you can always use dried dill if you can’t find fresh.

Combine the salt, sugar and dill and rub into the salmon fillet’s, just like you’re giving the fish a massage. Then, put in the fridge for a few days to allow the curing process to happen. Then, scrape off the salt rub and slice. Easy peasy!

Home-cured gravadlax
Home-cured gravadlax

Gravadlax is traditionally served with pickled beetroot, horseradish sauce and soft cheese. Try Settled Goats cheese by Blue House Goats served with Rye and Caraway Seed Bread by Bread and Roses for an authentic Nordic-inspired spread. It is perfect for canapes or as a show-stopping course in your Christmas Eve fish feast.

Visit Swallow Fish in Seahouses and pick up a beautiful centre-cut piece of salmon which is perfect for gravadlax. Pick up fresh dill at your local greengrocers or farm shop if you don’t grow your own.

Prawns

The classic prawn cocktail is a staple at many a festive table during the seasonal period. This classic has had a bit of a revival of late, with additions of avocado, spinach, smoked salmon or creating a more Eastern feel by adding chilli, coriander and garlic. Whatever you decide, this classic is simple to put together and is a perfect crowd pleaser.

Fresh prawns
Fresh king prawns ready to cook for a cracking Christmas dish

Get your king prawns for your prawn cocktail from The Berwick Shellfish Company.

Smoked Haddock

Kedgeree is a dish created in Victorian times that is based loosely on Indian cuisine. It used to be a breakfast staple for the wealthy, but nowadays its more likely to be eaten at teatime. Kedgeree, though, is a delicious meal which is perfect for Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.

It’s quick to cook and easy to make and can be conveniently served hot or cold! Find some smoked haddock from Ross Dougal in Eyemouth and top the dish off with either boiled or a soft poached egg from Border Eggs. Yum!

Lobster

Lobsters are found along the North-East coast. Lobster is seen to be one of the last few indulgent foods in the West, alongside caviar for instance.

Lobster is best cooked simply. Cut the lobster in half, remove its guts and grill or bake. Serve with butter and lemon juice. Alternatively, lobster Thermador is a show-stopper. It is essentially baked lobster halves with a mustard cheese sauce. Serve with fried potatoes.

Lobster with poached eggs
Lobster tails with poached eggs could be your new Christmas Eve brunch favourite

The shell is inedible but it can be used to make fish stock or lobster sauce. Waste not!

Find delicious lobsters from The Northumberland Seafood Centre.

A Fintastic Feast

This Christmas, try a traditional fish feast. We are lucky to live in such a fantastic place in the world, where we can readily source fresh, local fish. For a lighter Christmas, try some of these meals over the festive period.

What is your favourite fish dish? Join the conversation on social media. Follow Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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References
  1. European Christmas
  2. Wigilia