christmas fish

When I was growing up, I had a picture book about a little boy in Czechoslovakia going with his grandmother to pick out a live carp to cook up for Christmas dinner. That’s what the Czechs do on Christmas eve – pick out a fat carp from a barrel, take it home, and leave it in the tub until it’s time for the carp to go with Baby Jesus up to heaven and the cleaning and frying of the fish to begin.

I like eating fried fish on Christmas, a tradition my mom still observes. It’s tasty and doesn’t make you want to fall asleep right away, like turkey. (I just capitalized that by accident…those boring Turks!) It’s a meal I look forward to a lot. But this Christmas, Wooten and I were headed for his parents’ house, and the year before, I spent Christmas eating ice cream sandwiches on a lawn chair with my friend Oso, in order to avoid making smalltalk his large, jovial, and very conservative Argentine family.

This year I’d toyed with the thought of making fried fish, but it didn’t seem like there would be time before we left for GA.  When Joe decided to have dinner with us on the 22nd of December, though, and I discovered some  catfish in the back of the freezer, I found myself making Christmas dinner for the very first time. One might even say we whipped it up. Matt got some Canola oil to improve the frying, and I set out the three bowls  – one with egg, one with flour, and one with breadcrumbs – next to one another, just like I’d seen my mom do for 22 years. Coat the fish in egg, lightly in flour, and then breadcrumbs sticking to the yellow, floury layer of the first two.  And then a quick fry of the fish, which started to smell heavenly – salty and greasy and light.

Joe appeared with jug wine and the comforting clomp of boots up the stairs, gifts exchanged, radio shows made fun of, stories swapped, and then fish was on plates, mashed potatoes scooped out, and all devoured in the light of candles on our table and the Philly skyline outside.

Realizing I’d known how to make Christmas fish all along was great. The fact that it was ACTUALLY delicious, and that happy boys were eating seconds, was even better.

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