The 12 Dishes of Christmas #2

Catholic Christmas and Salt Cod

A painting by Carl Larsson - titled 'Christmas Eve'
‘Christmas Eve’ Carl Larsson

So in the previous post we outlined this year’s GBC Festive Feast, with our ‘12 dishes of Christmas’ . We’ve got three courses to cover, and 12 dishes in total, so yup you’ve guessed it, it means there are 4 starters! (our maths is impeccable). We started off with Potato Latkes, a classic recipe for the Jewish winter celebration of Chanukah. Our next option is an Italian Christmas classic, salt cod.

Salt Cod with Tomatoes and Capers

For many in largely Catholic countries such as Italy, Christmas Eve food is often more important than Christmas day, due to the celebration of Holy Mass at midnight. As part of this, meat is also generally forbidden on Christmas Eve, and so developed the tradition of the ‘Feast of the Seven Fishes’.

A picture of salt cod
Salt cod (it’s tastier than it looks)

In Italy it commemorates the ‘Vigilia di Natale’, the waiting for the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Apparently the reason behind ‘seven’ fishes is unknown, though the number does have strong significance in the bible, appearing over 700 times. Salt cod, known as baccalà in Italy, is one of the most traditional servings at these celebratory meals and is the basis of this recipe. This feast was traditionally served after a 24 hour fasting period – we’re not saying you have to take part in that tradition to enjoy this Italian fish classic though…


1kg skinless salt cod
2 tablespoons capers
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1 400g can of plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
A good handful of fresh parsley and mint, coarsely chopped


1. Put cod in a bowl and cover with water. Cover and refrigerate, changing water 3 times a day, 2 days
2. Drain cod and pat dry, then cut into square inch chunks.
3. In a heavy pan, heat 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add onion and sauté until softened and golden, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Add chilli flakes, capers, tomatoes and juice, and salt. Using wooden spoon, gently crush tomatoes. Bring to simmer, then carefully add cod.
5. Add parsley and half the mint. Gently spoon some of sauce over cod. Simmer, uncovered, until cod is tender and heated through, about 5 minutes.
6. Using slotted spatula, transfer cod to serving platter. Remove pot from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Spoon sauce over fish, then sprinkle with remaining mint and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Serve.

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