On Christmas, many Jews can be found in the movie theaters and Chinese restaurants. For most of my childhood I did the same and remember those times fondly, until I started working at the fish store. I grew up in a working class town with many Italian families. What I learned as a fish monger is just how much fish Italians eat on Christmas. During the fish monger years, I used to wake up on Christmas morning on a blow-up mattress behind the filet counter next to the rest of the fish store family. We had been up all night shelling thousands of shrimp, stuffing hundreds of clams, filling up huge rubber garbage cans with water from a hose to re-hydrate the baccala, salt cod sold by the slab that most of the year sat like rocks by the cashier. We had been making cocktail sauce for the shrimp cocktail and creating tuna salad, shrimp salad, salmon salad, hundred pound barrels of coleslaw. We were chopping, lifting, stuffing, shelling, shucking, cooking, packaging and sweating. Our backs hurt, our arms were tired, we smelled, but we had done good work.
When we got up, just after dawn, Joey and I were in charge of one delivery van and the owners of the other. We spent Christmas Eve and morning delivering high quality truckloads of fish, like Deep Sea Santas to the Italian families of our small town.
Nowadays, I like to have seafood in commemoration of those wonderful, exhausting Christmas Eves. However, because I have some time off from work this time of year, I usually end up visiting people and eat whatever is on their menu.
There are three people for whom I can never cook, my mother, my mother-in- law and my grandmother. Therefore, when I visit them I can only bring my favorite desserts, tons of wine (or Russian beer in Grandma’s case) or create a salad. This year I threw together a creative salad, balancing bitter and sweet with tons of texture.
Use a base of baby arugula, which is slightly bitter in flavor. Cut the bitterness with sweet chewy dates, fresh pineapples (sweet and acidic), dried cranberries, crunchy walnuts and soft, sweet cherry tomatoes. To put a dressing on this salad other than a touch of olive oil would be sinful. The salad speaks for itself. It’s a gorgeous, quick salad that shows a bit of inventiveness without overshadowing the main meal. Pair with a good wine, lots of good wine and enjoy the holidays!