Despite growing up in an Italian-American household, I never heard of the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” until much later in my life. For us, Christmas Eve meant one thing: lobsters fra diavolo. They were the focal point of an elaborate dinner that started with appetizers, which included an insalata frutta di mare, a seafood salad with calamari, shrimp, and celery dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Occasionally there was also a plate of white-fish salad. After the cold appetizers, came a platter of baked clams, which concluded the antipasto portion of the meal.
We then went on to the pasta, which was always linguine alle vongole, linguine with clam sauce, always white, which was then followed by the main course: lobsters fra diavolo. Each of us was served an individual lobster. Even as a child, I had my own. Of course, my dad had to help me battle with it to extract its sweet meat napped with my aunt’s spicy tomato sauce. But as a child, it was the lobster’s savory bread stuffing that I enjoyed the most.
The meal concluded with raw fennel seasoned simply with black pepper and dressed with olive oil and then dessert or more accurately a plethora of desserts: my aunt’s Neapolitan struffoli, amaretti, panettone, torrone, panforte di Siena, almond brittle, Perugina chocolates, etc., etc., etc.
So looking back on this meal, we may have had five or six types of fish and seafood, but no one ever counted. It was just one grand meal, which ever since my aunt’s and parents’ passing, I’ve continued to recreate, at least in part, every year.
This year our diner was just two courses: spaghetti with Manila clams
and lobster fra diavolo, the recipe for which follows.
Lobster Fra Diavolo
1 large clove garlic, minced fine
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (more if you like it hot)
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
1 jigger of brandy/cognac
1) In a heavy bottomed saucepan, simmer the garlic and pepper flakes in the olive oil over a very low flame until aromatic (approx 5 – 7 minutes). Don’t let the garlic brown.
2) Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, season with salt and pepper, and simmer sauce for about 15 to 20 minutes minutes. After the first 5 minutes, add the brandy.
3) Remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375º
Preparing the Lobsters
1) Place the lobster shell down on a cutting board.
2) With a sharp knife or cleaver, split the lobster in half without cutting through the shell. Start at the head and slide your knife down to the tail. You may want to use a towel or two when splitting the lobster to avoid any mess and to cushion your hand. Just be careful.
3) Finish splitting the lobster with your hands making room for the stuffing.
4) Crack the claws, which allows the claw meat to cook and lend flavor to the sauce.
5) Remove the coral and put aside for the stuffing; make sure to discard any overly dark pieces
6) Extract the sack at the back of the lobster’s head.
Stuffing for Lobsters (Quantity is for 4 1¼ pound lobsters; make extra if, like me, you like them over-stuffed)
1 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup grated Romano cheese
2 large garlic cloves, minced fine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
Lobster coral (make sure to remove any overly dark pieces of the coral)
1) Mix the breadcrumbs, parsley, cheese, garlic, and oregano, salt and pepper. Gradually add just enough olive oil to moisten the breadcrumb mixture. The breadcrumbs should be just moist enough so they clump when pinched.
2) Add the lobster coral and mix just until incorporated. If the mixture is too moist, add more breadcrumbs. If too dry, add a little more olive oil.
3) After killing and slitting the lobsters and removing the sack behind the neck, stuff the lobsters in the cavities in front of the tail.
4) Add a ladle or two of sauce to each of the baking dishes Place the lobsters in the baking dishes shell-side down. Ladle sauce over the claws and the tail meat, but not on the stuffing. Add remaining sauce to the bottom of each baking dish.
5) Drizzle the lobsters with a little olive oil.
6) Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes.
Wine Pairing: Corvina, Soave, Bardolino, Chianti