Dan is here with his second guest post for Style and Cheek. Enjoy!
My family is insane about Christmas Eve. It is by far the most important family event of the year, and not because of any religious significance, but because of the food. In my mom’s family’s Italian tradition, Christmas Eve is the ultimate in indulgent mercury poisoning – there are supposed to be 7 courses of fish, and even though we never make it to 7, it always feels like we’ve gone past 30. Italians on Christmas Eve are why the Oceans are over-fished. This year, for the first time, I won’t be in New Jersey getting fat(ter), so I’m going to do my own miniature version of what has become my brother’s menu. But let’s pretend that I was going all out, cooking for 20 people, and doing the whole nine yards instead of two. Here is a little look at how I think the ideal Christmas Eve dinner should play out:
Fried clams strips are the embodiment (along with pork roll – and if you don’t know what this is, you’re missing out! It’s an immaculate sliceable hot-dog-esque loaf ) of New Jersey summer-time eating. Somehow, they ended up on my family’s Christmas Eve menu, along with fried scallops, fried shrimp, shrimp cocktail, and crab dip. I guess it sort of makes sense to pair the least classy items we’ll eat all night with champagne and mixed drinks. Fried seafood and booze at noon is probably the best way to start any family gathering featuring background music by Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. I considered making fried clam strips this year but decided I didn’t want to smell like I work at Long John Silver’s.
Cioppino is amazing. If you haven’t had cioppino before, think Mediterranean Manhattan clam chowder but with almost any kind of fish you can think of (scallops, lobster, shrimp, any kind of whitefish, etc…). Any liquid that is meant to have bread dipped into it is a friend of mine (and Julia’s). Whole Foods usually has this soup, and it is pretty damn good. Personally, I prefer my soups to have a bit of a kick, so try this with some extra chili flake.
Lobster risotto is one of my brother’s specialties. By now we’re about 3 hours into eating and I’ve probably already snuck 10 cookies, but what your parents told you when you were a kid is BS, eating junk food right before dinner does not spoil your appetite. Somehow, this risotto never turns out heavy or overly rich, just jam packed with lobster flavor.
Pasta with crab sauce. This is the only course that I usually pound seconds of with no regard for the space needed for upcoming dishes. Dungeness crab in every bite of red saucy goodness – sweet and rich. If motivated, serve this over some homemade pasta, it is a bit of work but so worth the effort. And forget using that roller. Uniform pasta is overrated. I rave about this to Julia as often as it comes up (not that often) but there is nothing better than homemade pasta with variable levels of chew. The texture just makes me happy.
Lobster tails stuffed with claw meat and scallop stuffing. One of these from a decent (1-1.5lb lobster) with drawn butter is probably 2000 calories. I couldn’t find an exact picture of this, so here is a tail stuffed with just lobster meat (not as yummy but just as rich). There really isn’t much to say about this. Decadent, and clearly meant to be washed down with some more bubbly.
The final course: Alaskan King crab legs. By now it is around 10pm. Everybody is stuffed, and borderline in pain. But guess what? You cannot say no to King Crab. Sweet, light and flavorful, these babies often don’t even need butter. In fact, they will taste so much healthier than everything else on this menu that they might as well be a vegetable.
By the end of the King Crab course anyone who suggests that it is time for dessert just hears groans. But screw that, it is Christmas Eve! Indulge! Cookies? Cake? Pie? Yes, all of it please! It’s Santa’s night, and that dude clearly has no self-control either. Midnight Mass? Hell no, I’m passing out, gotta rest up because tomorrow we’re doing the same thing all over again but with beef, turkey, and bacon.
If you’re going to eat for 10+ hours you need something tasty to wash it all down…