Thanksgiving evokes images of abundant tables heaving with traditional roast turkey, hearty stuffings, and classic sides. But if you were to journey back to the inaugural 1621 Thanksgiving feast shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe, you’d likely see a very different spread — one featuring an array of seafood.
In light of this historical connection between Thanksgiving and seafood, we’ve thoughtfully curated a collection of Thanksgiving fish recipes (and a few featuring shellfish, for good measure), each deserving a place at your holiday table.
Whether you seek to complement your traditional turkey or embark on a complete Thanksgiving transformation, these seafood creations pay homage to the first Thanksgiving while incorporating fall flavors and time-honored traditions. Dessert is up to you!
Broiled Mussels with Garlic-Herb Butter
Historians suggest mussels were eaten at the first Thanksgiving feast. So, think of this simple dish as a contemporary take on the “Mussels Seeth’d with Parsley and Beer” served at the regularly sold-out and historically accurate “New England Harvest Feast” hosted by the museum celebrating the Plimouth (yes, in this case it’s “Plimouth”…just go with it) settlement. This recipe features mussels on the half shell, brushed with butter infused with a hint of Pernod, a French anise liquor. They’re then broiled to a golden finish.
Salmon and Sweet Potato Fishcakes
This Thanksgiving fish recipe combines flaky wild Alaskan salmon and sweet potatoes to create a unique addition to your table. The scallions, mustard, lime zest, and juice brightens the savory dish, while the cornmeal coating adds a satisfying crunch. Top them off with an aromatic sauce scented with rosemary, and these fishcakes are a lovely menu option for your feast.
Alaskan Cod with Bean and Corn Salad
Surely you know this story from school: Squanto, a Patuxet Native American, played a crucial role in the survival of early Pilgrims in Plymouth. According to legend, he passed on to them agricultural knowledge, such as using fish to fertilize corn plants and the “Three Sisters” planting method that grows corn, beans, and squash together in a single mound. Celebrate this history with a fresh bean and corn salad, a perfect accompaniment to Alaskan cod, producing a delightful Thanksgiving side dish with fresh ingredients.
Butter Poached Lobster
To replicate the likely first Thanksgiving, consider adding some lobster to your menu. It makes sense, since this event took place in New England, which is known for the 10-legged crustacean. Not only is it historically accurate, but it’s also the ultimate celebratory food.
Butter-poached lobster is a standout option, as the slow, gentle cooking process ensures tender meat. Once poached, serve it hot or cool it under cold water, presenting it on a bed of crisp butter lettuce or assembling flavorful, New England-style lobster rolls, a fitting tribute to where the first Thanksgiving was celebrated.
Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Chunky Mashed Potatoes
Thanksgiving is not complete without a big bowl of mashed potatoes to pass around the table, so why not take this holiday classic to the next level by pairing it with some wild Alaskan salmon? The secret to this Thanksgiving fish recipe lies in poaching the salmon in oil, a technique favored by seafood connoisseurs and chefs for its delectable flavor. The gentle, slow cooking at low heat produces a supremely moist texture. Opt for full-flavored extra virgin olive oil to infuse the dish with aromatic, apple-like notes. Alternately, you can substitute chicken broth if you prefer.
Crab Cakes with Apple Fennel Slaw
These crab cakes will add a touch of freshness and elegance to your Thanksgiving spread. The apple-fennel-radish slaw, full of crisp fall flavors, adds a refreshing contrast to the crunchy cakes dotted with buttery crab, creating a beautiful complement to the savory crab cakes. A zesty Meyer lemon dressing ties it all together.