Edible Monterey Bay

Mary Chamberlin’s Feast of the Seven Fishes

mary_chamberlinDecember 22, 2015 – How to celebrate the holidays without Dungeness Crab? We have a different tradition you might like to try! Italian-American households and families in southern Italy enjoy the lavish Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Beloved Carmel chef and cookbook author Mary Chamberlin has created a full seven fishes menu for us and will be preparing it this year for her extended family.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is traditionally part of the Christmas Eve vigil, a partial fast where meat may not be consumed. According to Mario Batali,”It’s what Italians do when they say they are fasting.” It is course after course of luxurious seafood and fish dishes. Seven represents the sacraments, but it’s flexible and adaptable to each cook’s interpretation. There are also feasts with ten courses for the ten stations of the cross, twelve courses for the 12 disciples or 13 courses for the 12 disciples plus Jesus.

Chamberlin, who founded the Central Coast Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, says this Christmas will be the second time she prepares the feast. “There is something very special, almost magical about doing this, and I’m not even Catholic!” she says. “I love cooking and it just really honors the occasion.”

She is also the author of “The Traveling Soup Pot” cookbook. Now in its third printing, it is a collection of recipes and stories gathered from her travels around the world at the side of her late husband, who was a captain for TWA.

This year as a gift for close friends, Chamberlin prepared recipe cards for all the dishes in her menu and presented them tied with a ribbon. Her recipe for Red Snapper Bajamar is below.

To buy her book and learn more contact: www.marychamberlincookbooks.com



1st Course – Clams & Oysters (Origin Brittany, France – Rome, Italy)

Oeuf En Surprise – Coquille de Clam Casino

 Raw Oyster with Sauce Mignonette


2nd Course – Crab (Origin New Orleans French Quarter)

Brie & Crab Soup (can be made with canned crab)


3rd Course – Shrimp (Origin – I Created This Recipe for Texas Citrus –Dressing Hawaii)

Double Pink Grapefruit and Shrimp Salad


4th Course – Scallops (Origin Jacques Cagna Paris, France)

Scallops Colbert


5th Course – Red Snapper or Rock Cod (Origin Madrid, Spain)

Red Snapper Bajamar, Filet Roasted in a Garlicky Spanish Red Sauce


6th Course – Salmon (Origin France & England)

Grilled Salmon Filets with Peppered Cabbage – Champagne Sauce

Garnished with Fresh Dill and Salmon Caviar

Served with Steamed New Potatoes


7th Course – White Anchovies (Origin Outer Banks, North Carolina)

Ocracoke Island Fig Cak, garnished with Fresh Fig and White Anchovy

Red Snapper or Halibut Bajamar
Bajamar is a well-know seafood restaurant on the Gran Vía in the center of Madrid, Spain. Carmel chef Mary Chamberlin discovered it back when her husband was flying the New York-Madrid route for TWA. She had a chance to visit Spain many times and, in 1984, spent a month there visiting a dear friend and attending a Spanish cooking school. “We enjoyed many evenings at this delightful restaurant,” Chamberlin says. “The owner, Sr. Sanchez, possessed such a sincere reverence for food and its preparation.”

“I have to admit I have never tasted a more delicious white fish with this wonderful thick garlicky red sauce,” she adds. That’s why she decided to prepare this dish as the main course of her Feast of the Seven Fishes and it certainly is a good idea for Christmas Eve dinner or any other night of the year.


3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced fine
1 – 2 red bell pepper, diced fine
1/2 cup olive oil
2 bottles (6oz) clam juice or 1 1/2 cups of fish stock
2 – 14.5 oz. cans of Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1 can anchovies, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons  tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
Chopped parsley
1 tsp. of Herbs de Provence
1 tsp. oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
3 or 4 Red Snapper or Halibut filets, lightly salted


Sauté garlic, onion, and red bell pepper, in olive oil and simmer until the vegetables are slightly soft and have a nice glaze.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, white wine, clam juice, and anchovies. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool slightly and puree for only a few seconds in the Cuisinart. 

Place some of the sauce in an earthenware casserole and lay the fish filets on top, and top with remaining sauce.  Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes.  Serve with rice and top with fresh chopped parsley or cilantro.