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Feasting on fish for Christmas

Looking for something a little different for your Christmas table this year? Seafood dishes from around the world offer an enticing palette of options, and guidelines from Seafood Watch and Eating Well can help you make choices with varieties of seafood that are best for the health of your family, the oceans and the fisherman who depend on them for their livelihoods.

A simple way to change-up the Christmas dinner table is to bake whole fish as an alternative to your existing traditional main course, be it turkey, ham or prime rib. Whole baked fish makes a beautiful presentation on a large platter garnished with alternating slices of lemon and lime, sprinkled with dried cranberries. Choose wild-caught Atlantic black bass or Pacific salmon from Alaska, which are both well-managed populations, so you can feel good about dipping into the sea for your Christmas feast. Other suitable varieties can be found on the Seafood Watch or Eating Well websites. Classic bread stuffing is suitable for fish, or you can continue to stretch the boundaries of tradition and go for a wild rice and mushroom pilaf, or a medley of sauteed sweet peppers, celery, onions, shallots and fingerling potatoes. All of your family favorite Christmas dinner side dishes will pair well with whole, baked fish.

Italian families around the world prepare a Christmas Eve traditional meal, Feast of the Seven Fishes, which typically includes smelts, eel, anchovies, squid, octopus, lobster and dried salt cod. Also called La Viglia di Natale, the tradition stems from the Catholic religious guidelines of eating fish instead of meat on religious holidays. For a large family that enjoys cooking together, this menu is an entertaining and adventurous way to spend the day preparing and sharing a meal. There is a lot of room for creating your own recipes from favorite seafood varieties, with which your family is already familiar.

Paella de Marisco is a hearty rice dish originating from the Valencia area of Spain. Paella is typically made with a mix of vegetables and meat, including chicken, rabbit or pork, but the Marisco version uses a variety of sea foods including fish, shrimp, clams and mussels. Saffron seasoning in the rice, combined with red and green peppers makes this colorful main dish an eye-popping center for the family dinner table, at Christmas, or any time of year. In Spain, paella is made in a special flat pan placed over a stand-alone gas burner or a grill over a charcoal fire. You don’t need the special gear to make paella, and this easy recipe from All Recipes will show you how.

Originally made from a puree of vegetables and leftover fish scraps, Cioppino has evolved into a rich stew chock full of a variety of prime seafood. This San Francisco classic warms the body and soul, perfect for chasing away the winter chill. Tadich Grill in the city’s Financial District has been a hand’s down favorite for over 150 years and the recipe adapted from their menu by Saveur can be found online. Serve it with a couple of side salads, like fresh greens with a balsamic vinaigrette and a chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion and cilantro with a squeeze of lime. Crusty, warm garlic bread or sourdough rolls for dipping into the savory, deep red stock will round out the meal.