For observant Christians worldwide, Lent commemorates the sacrifice Jesus made when he died for humanity’s sins and draws from his fasting in the desert for 40 days and nights, rejecting the devil’s temptation. Lent season, which begins on Ash Wednesday (this year, Feb. 14) and ends 40 days later, on March 28, is a time of self-reflection and personal sacrifice, accomplished by abstaining from certain habits, pleasures, or foods.

Once the practice of Lent was formalized in the 4th century, fasting from warm-blooded animals on Wednesdays and Fridays became a tradition. Fish, being cold-blooded, became a stand-in for the consumption of warm-blooded animals on the designated fast days. While coastal dwellers had easy access to freshly caught fish, fish preservation methods developed in the Middle Ages, such as smoking, pickling, and salting, provided sustenance for people who lived inland.

Eating fish on the fast day of Friday during Lent also is symbolic of Christ himself. Records dating back to the 2nd century indicate that when the name “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” is spelled out in Greek, it forms the acronym “ICHTHYS,” the Greek word for “fish.” Also, four of Jesus’ apostles were fishermen, and fish had been central to the miracles Christ performed and his teaching parables.

Here are several of our favorite fish recipes for lent, as well as tips, and techniques for creating meatless meals for Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent.

A French-inspired affair

Thick and mildly sweet-tasting halibut fillets are even more delectable with beurre noisette, or brown butter. You’ll cook the butter until the water content evaporates and the milk solids caramelize (the sugars cook), leaving you with a nutty, delicious-tasting butter sauce. Crisping sage leaves in the pan offers more earthy flavor and an incredible aroma to your kitchen. This easy fish main course comes together in only 15 minutes and is perfect for a gathering. Serve simply with fresh spinach gently sautéed in olive oil, or roasted or mashed potatoes.

Suggested wine pairing: Enjoy a light-bodied red wine, such as the Harry and David Royal Crest red blend, with this fish dish. The warm cedar and vanilla notes in the wine complement the aromatic sage and nutty brown butter sauce.

Halibut fillets in a pan with brown butter and sage.

Shrimp & Grits

Skip the traditional addition of bacon, and you’ll have a Lent-friendly shrimp and grits dinner carrying all the creamy texture and full flavors of this beloved South Carolina staple. Follow these four easy tips for success: 1) Begin with excellent quality shrimp and stone-ground grits for a hearty texture and rich corn flavor. 2) Think flavor! Generously season the shrimp with garlic, cayenne, paprika, or a specialty blend of rubs and seasonings. 3) For creamy grits, don’t skimp on butter and cheese, adding a touch extra if needed for smooth consistency. 4) For tender shrimp, cook until they turn pink and opaque; any longer will result in a tough texture.

Suggested wine pairing: Sparkling wines offer a lovely, bubbly contrast to this creamy dish, as does a light, dry pinot gris.

Recipes for lent with a bowl of shrimp and grits.

A twist on classic orange chicken

Sablefish, aka black cod, is a smooth, buttery white fish with a rich, mild flavor. It is a delicacy in world cuisines, from Japanese sushi (gindara) preparations to smoked sable in the tradition of Jewish appetizing — its rich flesh makes it perfect to withstand smoking without drying out!

We love the simplicity and accessibility of this Chinese orange chicken-inspired recipe that calls for thick, cubed fillets of sable as a stand-in. Dredge the sable in an orange zest-infused batter and air fry until golden brown. Pour over the fragrant orange sauce and toss with crispy scallions and cabbage for a Lenten meal that is full of flavor. Enjoy with fluffy, steamed white rice, fried rice (omit the meat), green beans, or seasonal vegetables, such as bok choy.

Suggested wine pairing: You can enjoy rosé year-round. Harry and David’s bright, fruit-forward, award-winning rosé will bring out the sauce’s sweetness and offer a light, crisp finish.

Recipes for lent with a plate of sablefish cooked in orange sauce.

“Sole” food

Ready-to-make dinners from Vital Choice will save you time in the kitchen and help build a repertoire of easy-to-make fish dishes to inspire other dinners throughout the Lenten season.

Vital Choice flash-frozen fillets have a straight-from-the-sea taste due to technological advances that lock in texture and flavor. And since the fillets defrost quickly, a complete meal is just minutes away. We love the delicate texture and mild nuttiness of wild petrale sole that comes with a prepared side dish of currant and sun-dried tomato couscous. Or try wild cubed raw yellowfin (ahi) tuna poke — a preparation that means “diced” in Hawaiian — with a blend of sesame seed and organic dried seaweed seasoning. Enjoy it as an appetizer, lunch, or dinner bowl by serving it over rice with fresh cucumber, cubed avocado, sprouts, scallions, and cherry tomatoes.

Suggested wine pairing: Harry and David’s light-bodied, toasty Oregon pinot gris is sole’s “soulmate,” and its chardonnay has a rich body to complement rich, buttery ahi tuna.

Ready to eat sole dinner with sides.

5 ways to delectable sea bass dinners

Bacteria thrives in moisture, so taking the appropriate measures to keep fresh fish dry will protect your investment and ensure great-tasting Lenten fish meals. To remove excess moisture from fish, pat fillets dry with a paper towel, then wrap them in a single layer and store them toward the back and bottom of the refrigerator, where it’s coldest. Also, about one hour before preparation, generously season fish fillets with salt. This firms the flesh by drawing out moisture, making your fillets easier to handle.

Check out these five delicious recipes using versatile, tender, flaky, and mild Chilean sea bass. These easy-to-prepare techniques range from salt baked, bouillabaisse style, pan-roasted, sautéed, and oven roasted. And if you prefer other favorite fillets, swap in cod, halibut, or haddock.

Suggested wine pairing: Follow these tips for pairing wine with fish and seafood, then turn to the robust reds and refreshing whites among the Harry & David wines collection to complement the full flavors in each of these preparations.

Recipes for lent with a cast-iron skillet full of sea bass fillets with a spoon drizzling butter over the top.

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Author

Theresa Gambacorta is a food writer and 25-year veteran of New York City's restaurant industry. Her writing has appeared in such titles as La Cucina Italiana, Men's Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, and Centennial's special interest publications. She is the co-author of chef Joey Campanaro's Big Love Cooking (Chronicle) and is currently working on a cookbook about Persian cuisine to be published by Knopf.

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