Where Christmas day is considered the first of those twelve days, the Eve of Epiphany (January 5) is when “Twelfth Night,” the last hurrah of Christmas, is celebrated, but where the twelve days begin on the day following December 25, the twelfth day is actually feast of the Epiphany.
Since I didn’t grow up in either tradition, we’ve sort of made up our own in our house, and will celebrate our Twelfth Night this evening. Doing it on Epiphany gives us one more day to celebrate Christmastide, and, more to the point, an excuse for not taking down the tree yet.
It’s also an excuse for one last feast before a good look in the mirror reminds us that we’ve had enough celebrating for the time being and need to start cutting back.
Since most of the food traditions for Epiphany/Twelfth Night feasts center around a sweet such as the king’s cake, there aren’t a lot of set traditions for the meal itself. There’s no set main dish like turkey at Thanksgiving or ham/lamb at Easter. Our menu is therefore rarely the same from year to year, but after all the heaviness of Christmas goose, turkey, ham, and roast beef, it’s often centered around some kind of fish.
The nice thing about feasting with fish is that it can be sumptuous without being quite as heavy as the Christmas food that we’ve been indulging in for the last month. We can virtuously stick to our resolution to cut back while still feeling as if we’re celebrating. In fact, the recipe following can be made as indulgent or as light as you like by adding or cutting back on the butter finish, and will still taste like a feast worthy of the kings.
Baked Fish with Orange-Ginger Sherry Butter
From my book Essentials of Southern Cooking (Lyons Press/2013), this recipe came from my Aunt Alice, who was a fabulous cook. Originally intended for grouper, it also works well with sea trout (as shown in the photograph), sea bass, snapper, pompano, and cod.
4 thick grouper, sea trout, sea bass, snapper, or cod fillets (about 1½-to-2 pounds, or 6-to-8-ounces each)
4 small or 2 large scallions or other green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
Salt and whole white pepper in a pepper mill
1 large lemon
1 medium orange
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into teaspoon-size bits
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Rinse the fish under cold running water and pat it dry. Butter a flameproof casserole that will hold the fillets in one layer. Add them to it, and sprinkle the scallions over them, reserving 2 tablespoons of their green tops. Season well with salt and white pepper. Cut the zest from the lemon and half the orange with a bar zester (or remove it with a vegetable peeler and cut it into julienne with a sharp knife). Sprinkle it over the fish.
2. Halve the lemon and orange. Separately the juice both halves of the lemon and one of the orange through a strainer set over a glass bowl. You should have equal parts orange and lemon juice—about 2 tablespoons of each. Stir them together with the sherry and ginger, pour it over the fish and bake in the center of oven, basting several times, until the fish is just cooked through (flaking slightly and opaque to the center), about 15-to-18 minutes, depending on thickness.
3. Remove the fish to a warm platter. Put the casserole over direct medium-high heat (if the casserole isn’t flameproof, transfer the cooking liquid to a small frying pan), bring to a boil, and boil, stirring and scraping pan occasionally, until the cooking liquid is reduced by half. Turn off the heat and whisk in butter by bits. Spoon a little of the sauce over the fish and pour the remainder into a sauceboat. Sprinkle the reserved green onion tops over the fish and serve with the sauce passed separately.
Recipe and some text adapted from Essentials of Southern Cooking (Lyons Press), copyright © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.