Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wigilia Dinner..Did I mention I'm Polish?

A long standing tradition in my family has been to gather at my Grandma's house on Christmas Eve, where all of my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins would eat a large dinner, and then exchange presents. As I recall, when I was a kid, dinner was merely just a painfully long process that was necessary before the presents could be opened. I remember I was always SO excited about opening the first presents of Christmas. But alas, presents at my age are usually very practical, and generally not too much of a surprise. I'm certainly not complaining here at all; I still love getting presents and I love the joy everybody gets when opening my present I gave to them. If anything has changed, it's what I look forward to every Christmas eve. What used to be a long drawn out process standing in the way of me tackling as many presents that had my name on it is now truly what I look forward to the most.

So what's so great about this dinner, you ask? Well, It always consisted of fried fish, homemade pierogi, lots of potatoes, kapusta (sweet and sour cabbage), creamed cucumbers, corn and any other number of veggies. By itself, this sounds pretty awesome, but it's the tradition behind the dinner that is even cooler to me. This traditional Polish dinner is called Wigilia (pronounced vi gilia). Wigilia by tradition begins when the first star is spotted in the night sky, which is supposedly around 5pm. While champagne has already been flowing for a while at this point, this is where the food begins. As a tradition, everybody gets a piece of a Christmas wafer, which they then go around to everybody in the house, break a piece off to them while wishing them good fortune in the new year. Then, while dinner preparations are being finished, cheese & crackers along with shrimp, crab cakes and other things are served. I assume this may be to soak up some of the champagne most of us have already consumed. As far as the dinner table goes, an extra spot was always set at the table to symbolize Jesus being present at the table.  Along with this hay would be placed under the plate.  As I read about this Polish tradition, a variant is for a plate to be set just in case an unexpected visitor or family member arrived.

For the last few years, I have been in charge of cooking the fish, probably because I'd done just that on Friday nights in a local restaurant for about 2 years. So if you always wanted to make a homemade fish fry at your house, pay attention here.

First off, pour oil into your home deep fryer up to the proper level (go closer to the max fill line) and set the fryer for 350 degrees. Next, you'll need to make the batter for the fish.  Batter in itself is simple to make, but the consistency is key. If the batter is too thin, it wont stick to the fish.  If it is too thick, it will stick to the fish, but also stick to everything else, including the basket and other pieces of fish. The consistency should be a little thicker than milk.  Best thing to do here is follow the instructions on the package. If it's too thin after you cook your first piece, add more mix. Too thick, pour a little beer out of your drink to thin it out. Golden Dipt makes a pretty good batter mix, and can be found at any supermarket.

Next, you'll need your fish.  Don't go cheap on this one. A good piece of fish will cook and taste so much better. I recommend Cod or Haddock. We always get our fish from Clark's in hamburg, and have yet to have an issue with them, they're awesome!

You'll also need a bowl of flour, tongs and a metal spatula. Start off by taking a piece of fish and placing it in the bowl of flour. Coat the piece pretty well in the flour.
    After it is coated in the flour, toss it into the batter. Make sure it gets a nice coating, and then pick the piece of fish out of the batter with a pair of tongs.
Now it's time to drop the fish into they fryer. But unless you want a lot of burns, don't actually drop it. The key to making sure not to burn yourself as well as making sure the fish doesn't stick to anything is putting into the oil slowly. After all the excess batter runs off the fish, place it into the oil, but move the tongs back and forth a little before letting go of the fish. If the batter can set on the outside before it touches the bottom, it won't stick as bad.
Let the fish cook for a few minutes on each side, generally until they are a nice golden brown color all around. It tasted just as good as it looks. Did I mention yet that I have to give credit for these pictures to my sister Jill? Seriously, she takes awesome pictures. And shes also the inspiration behind starting this blog in the first place. You should check out her blog (after you finish reading of course).

After you take the fish out of the oil, let any excess drain out for a few minutes. After that, it's ready to serve. Cooking the fish is my small contribution to this amazing Wigilia tradition, and hopefully you can see why this amazing dinner with family is the best present of all.

The desserts are also one of the best parts. I mean seriously, who doesn't love dessert? For some reason, the fruit slices are a family favorite. I guess it's a comfort food that brings you back to Christmas in the 90's. They have just always been there. It's tough though, between all the options, you really can't have it all. Apple pie this year? I'll have to try the raspberry next year.
 No, not homemade

 Also, not homemade. Must give many thanks to one of my mothers colleagues for always sending one for our Christmas Eve dinner. It's turned into part of the tradition by now.

Next year, many photos of all the pies will be included. I may also post my starting and ending weight for this day. On second thought, that might not be the best idea..

1 comment:

  1. Well goodness! What accolades! A very nice post, Mike. I obviously must get back to work with my posting too. I've got pics lined up just waiting for some attention.

    The wafer is always my favorite part. And the champagne.

    And I loved the "always brings me back to Christmas in the 90's" line. It's the 80's for me, and I'm pretty sure mom remembers thos fruit slices from the 60's.