As more and more people in the UK celebrate Easter with seafood, Rachel Walker explores the roots of the tradition and rustles up her pick of festive recipes from around the world.
Hot cross buns, legs of lamb, gold-wrapped chocolate eggs – and seafood. As we approach the Easter Bank Holiday, there is a tightly scripted list of what should adorn our festive tables. But increasingly it seems we’re celebrating with seafood too, with sales rocketing in the run-up to Easter for the third year running.
According to research by industry authority Seafish, seafood sales spiked 17% in the week leading up to Easter in 2013 and 2014, up on 15% in 2012, with sales of salmon (now the biggest selling fish at Billingsgate, pictured left) rising over a quarter for all three years.
There is logic behind the trend, as warmer weather triggers a shift towards lighter, healthier food – all the more desirable during a weekend that’s often devoted to over-indulgence, particularly of chocolate.
Of course Easter has long been associated with seafood, being part and parcel of the traditional religious festival. Good Friday is the climax of Lent, traditionally a time of fasting. For Catholics, it is a day of abstaining from meat, though seafood is allowed – a rule that extends to Fridays throughout the year, hence the tradition of fish on Friday.
As the Easter weekend progresses, the focus shifts to celebration. In the Greek Orthodox church, this happens following the midnight Easter service. With the proclamation, “Christ is risen!” the time of feasting begins. In this part of the world, Easter is called the “feast of feasts”, bigger even than Christmas.
And then there is also the ancient pagan tradition: a celebration named after Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, fertility and rebirth; a festival of spring, when the earth bursts into new life.
All of which means that there are plenty of reasons to eat seafood at Easter, whether you’re in the mood for abstinence or celebration. And there are plenty of traditions all around the world to be inspired by, from the pickled fish of South Africa or Sweden, to Ecuador’s fanesca, a traditional soup made from salt cod, grains and spices. So to get you in the festive mood, here’s our pick of Easter dishes from around the world.
1. Scandinavian hot pickled herrings
By Karen Burns-Booth, Lavender and Lovage
Easter in Sweden is all about sill, pickled herring. Herring is one of those typical Swedish dishes that you’ll always find on the table at big holidays like Christmas, midsummer and Easter. Normally served along with potatoes and at least a few shots of Aquavit. This dish even includes eggs, ratcheting up the Easter association even more.
2. Cape Malay pickled fish
By Michael Oliver
Pickled fish is also a big tradition at the Cape, and is particularly popular at Easter. “Some say that is was made to feed the masses on Good Friday after the three hour church service in the morning,” says Michael Oliver, who provides this recipe. “Few Cape homes would not have their own recipe for ‘kerrievis’ as pickling was a popular way of preserving fish in the days before refrigerators.”
3. Mini salmon spinach quiches
By Regina, Leelalicious
Bank holidays are a time for waking up late and luxuriously extending the morning. This is a perfect brunch dish, to be enjoyed whenever you get round it, perhaps with a glass of something fizzy. A perfect introduction to a feast day, made with Britain’s most popular Easter fish – and indeed now the most popular at Billingsgate year-round.
4. Herb and citrus roasted trout
By Elena Feldbaum
The trout season is now in full swing, traditionally signalling the start of spring – and a fine time to eat this tasty freshwater fish. The trout can be prepared in advance and then takes just half an hour to roast, making this dish a fuss-free option.
5. Crab Mac ‘n’ Cheese
By Amanda Frederickson
Easter may be a celebration of spring, but sadly the weather doesn’t always play ball. So if the skies are grey and clouding over, then there’s little better than hunkering down with a bubbling bowl of macaroni cheese, particularly when it’s been laced with crab, now just coming into its prime, as in this recipe from the US.
6. Chermoula Fish
By Tammi Kwok
The number of dishes involved in a traditional roast means that a Sunday lunch can leave hosts washing up well into Easter Monday. This recipe is a delicious but efficient alternative way of feeding a crowd: one big bowl of spiced couscous, and one fillet of chermoula-marinaded fish per person. Easy.
7. Sole Walewsksa
By Steve Pini
If you really want to pull out all the stops for an Easter “feast of feasts”, look no further than this spectacular dish by Steve Pini, executive chef for the Fishmonger’s company. A modern take on Escoffier’s legendarily luxurious dish, it looks and tastes spectacular.