Tuesday, December 17, 2013

15 humans land bountiful Feast of the Seven Fishes

Monkfish fillets plumping up in tomato puree with garlic, onion, green olives, capers, parsley and basil. In Italian, the dish is called Squadro alla Matalotta.

Editor's note: Chef Central closed in January 2017, but I really enjoyed this night of cooking and eating.


Under the guidance of three chefs on Monday night, a dozen food enthusiasts prepared and then stuffed themselves with the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.

You don't have to be Italian to enjoy this seafood bounty, which included lobster, monkfish, crab, shrimp, mussels, squid and anchovies.

Festa dei Sette Pesci is associated with everything from the seven days it took to create the universe to the seven utterances that Christ made while on the cross to the seven hills of Rome.

We gathered at 6 p.m. in the kitchen at Chef Central in Paramus for a hands-on cooking demonstration and -- after measuring, chopping, marinating and cooking -- sat down more than two hours later to wolf down our food.

Apple-Smoked Prawns with Sauce Remoulade.
Monkfish with two other dishes, Steamed Mussels Marinara and Linguine with Crab in Tomato Tarragon Cream Sauce.

Teams of amateurs

The 12 people who paid $95 each for the hands-on workshop were split up into three teams, each assigned to a chef.

We'd get a recipe and work from the top down or the bottom up, measuring and assembling ingredients in plastic cups on a tray.

In the process, we learned valuable techniques from professionals, including the fundamental of washing our hands thoroughly before we handled uncooked food. 

Preparation and cooking of the seven dishes was timed beautifully, allowing us to dish from pots and pans, eat to our hearts' content and pack up leftovers.

I'll eat my leftovers for dinner tonight.

Calamari Piccanti or spicy squid marinated for about an hour in olive oil, salt and red-pepper flakes and was cooked briefly, yielding unusually tender rings and tentacles.
Sfincione, a style of pizza from Palermo, was covered in chopped anchovies, red onions, toasted bread crumbs, Pecorino Romano Cheese and pizza sauce.
In Italy, Linguine con Grachi in Salsa Speciale or Linguine with Crab in Tomato Tarragon Cream Sauce would be eaten covered with bread crumbs, not shredded cheese, but that's how I wanted my portion.

Lobster is tops

My favorite dishes were Arragosta Arrosto con la Senape e l'Origano or Baked Lobster with Mustard and Oregano, a dish with an assertive flavor; the spicy calamari and the wonderful monkfish fillets. 

The unusual pizza was tasty, but much too filling.

The baked lobster tails were covered with fresh parsley and oregano, and dressed in a sauce of extra-virgin olive oil, butter and Dijon mustard, above and below.

Minor complaints

I would have been very happy without the butter and cream used in a few of the recipes, as well as the remoulade sauce, and was disappointed in the bland conventional linguine.

A better choice would have been organic whole-wheat linguine from Whole Foods Market, which sponsored the workshop and gave each participant a reusable bag for seafood and a coupon.

Another minor annoyance were the flimsy plastic plates and plastic implements we were given to eat with.


My wife enjoyed the leftover pizza, pasta and a couple of smoked shrimp.

I gently reheated the calamari, mussels and monkfish with its green-olive sauce, and they made a delicious dinner that ended with an organic spring mix salad, which I missed at the workshop the night before. 

Chef Jim Edwards in Chef Central's professional kitchen.
A tray of sauces, fresh herbs and other ingredients.
We had to wear an anti-cut glove when using a knife.
The crab sauce for the linguine contained heavy cream.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes workshop is being given again at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Chef Central, 240 Route 17 north, Paramus; 201-576-0100. Reservations are necessary. Cost: $95.

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