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Crab cake lumps on a long narrow dish with green garnish

Seafood: A holiday tradition

By Rhett Register

On Christmas Eve, many Italian Americans join family and friends for a fish and seafood dinner. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, as some call it, seems to have its origins in Southern Italy and was introduced to America in the 1800s. Eating fish prior to certain holidays is a widespread Catholic practice.

Maurizio Martinelli, Florida Sea Grant Coral Disease Response Coordinator, comes from a family that has kept this tradition for as long as he can remember.

“We cook all day then bring our family and friends together to have this big fish feast,” says Martinelli.

While there are some staples — for example, a salted cod dish called baccalà — there is also room for trying new things, Martinelli explained. After all, seven is a pretty high number of seafood dishes to prepare, with many people making even more.

Fortunately, Florida Sea Grant recently finished its second season of Facebook Live seafood cooking demonstrations. The “Seafood at Your Fingertips” webpage has more than two dozen seafood preparation videos, recipes and blog posts. When restaurants closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Florida Sea Grant agents and partners decided to put the series together, filming themselves preparing some of their favorite seafood dishes to encourage people to cook seafood at home.

Recipes range from the one-step oysters on the half shell from Vincent Encomio, to Chris Verlinde’s crab cakes, which require a little more preparation. All of them are worth it. Seafood is healthy and, if properly chosen, can have a low environmental impact.

The latter is especially important to Martinelli. Since beginning to study marine science, his role in preparations of the Christmas Eve meal has changed. “I’ve gone from being just a sous chef to helping find fish that are more sustainable,” he says. “This can be a good time to try out new fish recipes, maybe using local seafood.”

Interested in adding fish to your holiday meal? Visit Florida Sea Grant’s “Seafood at Your Fingertips” for an ocean of seafood recipes and video demonstrations: flseagrant.org/seafood/seafoodatyourfingertips.

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