Feast of the Seven Fishes: Shellfish Edition

For a traditional Southern Italian Christmas (and now an Italian-American staple), the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a grand event of seafood fare on Christmas Eve. Smelts, squid, whole sea bass, and clams fill plates that are passed around large tables to fill bellies before Santa arrives. Why there are seven fishes represented at this poignant gathering is still up for debate. Is it because 7 is a lucky number? Is it for the number of days in the week? Symbolic of the day of rest? Who really knows, but a ton of seafood is consumed, so I am more than okay with that!

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We love seafood here, so let me help spark some ideas for your feast, and maybe create a new tradition! With the right items, this meal is easier to prepare than you would expect.

1. Cap-off Jonah Cocktail Claws

Sweet , tender, and snackable – perfect for an hors d’oeuvre. Serve with a grilled lemon aioli to make a simple and elegant dip while people mingle and sip cocktails.

2. Oysters – All of them.

Try experimenting with a few varieties and different mignonettes or sauces. Want to really shake things up? Try grilling some with herb and shallot butter while you’re grilling lemons for your crab claws.

3. Live Scallop

Glamour is defined by a scallop served in its own shell. Shuck one raw, slice, and garnish with herbs and a funky vinegar or flavored salt. Keep it simple. They can shine completely on their own, especially since they're in season.

4. Scungilli / Live Whelk

Here comes the salad course. Local live whelk can be poached, steamed, or grilled, and sliced on a bed of hearty greens, parsley, and sweet onions. Dress with plenty of olive oil and lemon zest.

5. Stuffed Quahogs

A little bit of New England influence never hurt anyone. Steam the clams open, chop the meat, and mix with herbs, bacon, and breadcrumbs. Stuff it back in the shell and bake until golden. The sweetness of this dish should be a great segue for the courses to come.

6. Linguine with Manila Clams

It's not officially an Italian feast without a pasta course. Manilla clams are the perfect size for a petite burst of salty sweet accents to a tender linguine, spaghetti, or angel hair. Steam the clams open with garlic and white wine, stir in some butter, pour over the pasta, and season with plenty of black pepper.

7. Cioppino with Mussels

Finish your feast with a belly warming stew featuring mussels. Nothing makes me feel all warm inside like slurping shells and sopping up tomato broth with huge chunks of bread (something crusty and rustic!). Start by sweating onions, garlic, and shallots. Add sherry or white wine, crushed tomatoes and simmer, reducing slightly. Add in whitefish, crab, and plenty of sweet mussels to round out a perfect and festive evening.

If your culinary juices are flowing, feel free to email me for further ideas or recipes.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!


The Perfect Oyster Cornbread Stuffing Recipe

Oysters now add a luxurious element to the standard turkey.
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In the turn of the century, wild oysters crowded the beaches. Oyster salons sprung up as a way for immigrants to make some easy money. Poultry was expensive relative to the abundant oysters, so bivalves were used to stretch the fill of the birds. Nowadays, the tables have turned. Oysters now add a luxurious element to the standard turkey.

Why do oysters go so well with bird? Poultry is the ultimate umami flavor. The tryptophan-laced animal has a richness that is normally complemented by earthy side dishes (potatoes) and contrasted with sweet (think cranberry sauce or yams with tiny marshmallows). In summary, we have sweet and umami; so naturally, we will need some salt in order to balance our palate. Enter our friend, the oyster, and now we can start the party.

The basic ingredients to an oyster stuffing (or dressing) include cubed, dried-out bread, oysters, parsley, bacon, and the liquor from the oysters. Most recipes will have you reserve the liquor for not only moisture, but for salt as well. Depending on what oysters you choose, this can be an essential ingredient. The salinity and mineral flavor of the liquor adds incredible depth to this dish, especially when your bread of choice is a sweet and dense cornbread. Add in some hearty herbs, like parsley and sage, and we are in business.

When cooking the stuffing, DO NOT COOK IT INSIDE THE BIRD!
There is nothing worse than an over-cooked oyster, except maybe a mushy, hot, steaming mess of one. Part of the charm of drying out the bread, rehydrating it, then baking it creates a texture like French toast – soft on the inside with a delicate crunch around the edges. Studded with meaty oysters, this is the perfect texture, but it cannot be achieved if cooked inside the cavity of your bird.


So let’s examine which oysters to use. Even though the tradition is rooted in the East Coast, an East Coast oyster may not be the right choice for the perfect stuffing. West Coast oysters, such as the Willapa Bay oyster, tend to maintain its form when cooked, which helps it stand up to the bread and vegetables used. These oysters do not shrink the way an Atlantic oyster might, and the delicate texture of the oyster will still stand out in each bite.

Bekah’s Willapa Oyster Stuffing


  • 1 large loaf of cornbread, cut into 1 in cubes (about 10 cups)
  • ½ lb thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons (thick match sticks)
  • 6 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 lb Willapa Bay shucked oysters, drained, plus 1 cup of reserved liquid
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tbsp. chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp. chopped sage leaves
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Spread the cubed cornbread on a baking sheet and dry out in the oven at 250º F for 45 minutes to an hour, making sure that the bread is dry and not browned. (This can be done a day ahead, as long as the bread is stored in an airtight container once its cooled.)

In a skillet, render the bacon over a medium-low heat. Once the bacon has released some of its fat, add in the shallot and garlic and celery to soften. Once the vegetables are soft and the bacon is crisp (about 10 minutes), deglaze the pan with the sherry and stir in the butter. Set aside before the butter separates.

In a bowl, combine the cooled cornbread, bacon mixture, oysters, herbs and lemon zest. Slowly fold in the chicken stock and the oyster liquid, making sure that the cornbread is moist, not wet. (It is ok to have liquid left over.) Fold in the egg and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.

Evenly spread the mixture in a greased pan and bake at 375 ºF for 25-30 minutes, or until the mixture is dry to the touch and browned around the edges. Let it stand for about 10 minutes before serving.