Fish is perfect dish, symbol for Easter

Fish might not be your idea of Easter breakfast. Usually you're trying to think up a way to use all those dyed eggs. But Rayner Hesse Jr., coauthor of "Cooking with the Bible" and an Episcopal priest, suggests a fish breakfast as an accompaniment to an Easter service at church. And he has reasons.

In John 21, the disciples have been out fishing all night but haven't caught a thing. Jesus -- though they don't recognize his altered, resurrected body -- hollers from the shore that they should toss the net over the other side of the boat.


More fish than they can haul in -- and now the disciples know it's Jesus. When the disciples come ashore, Jesus feeds them bread and fish he's been cooking over a fire.

Fish is rich with Easter symbolism: It served as the catalyst for the disciples to recognize the resurrected Jesus beside the shore. It also was a symbol for early Christians because the Greek word ichthus -- "fish" -- forms an acrostic consisting of the first letters of the phrase "Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

The fish, Rev. Hesse notes, was the means by which both Jesus and early Christians were recognized.

In "Cooking with the Bible," an essay describes how fish were often cooked back then: slow-roasted on large sticks placed upright at the fire's edge.

For outdoor Easter sunrise services, Rev. Hesse suggests churches could light a fire and roast some fish for an authentic touch.

Better yet, in his Episcopal tradition -- as well as Catholic, Orthodox and others -- Easter vigil services are common. Held on "Easter eve," these services start with somber reflection on the crucifixion and build to a climactic, joyous finish, when the church marks the coming of Easter at midnight.

Rev. Hesse suggests fire-roasted fish could add atmosphere, with the fire illuminating the night.

Grilled Mackerel on a Stick


This recipe accompanies the John 21 passage about Jesus' fish breakfast for the disciples in "Cooking with the Bible." I substituted easier-to-find button mushrooms for the truffles. The book suggests serving over basmati rice (I cooked about 1 1/2 cups) seasoned with capers (I dotted the rice with about half of a 3 1/2-ounce jar).

  • 1/3 cup sunflower or sesame oil
  • Juice of 3 limes
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 pounds fresh mackerel or sea bass, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 large onions, cut and separated into small wedges
  • 12 small truffles or button mushrooms
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, cut into thirds
  • 1 green pepper, cut in pieces
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut in pieces
  • 3 limes, cut in half
  • Basmati rice seasoned with capers
  • Limes for additional seasoning

Concoct a spicy marinade of the sesame oil, lime juice, tarragon, salt and paprika. Place the fish chunks in a large dish and marinate in the refrigerator for at least three hours.

Skewer the fish, alternating with wedges of onion, truffle, tomato and green and yellow pepper. Place over hot flame or coals, turning frequently, for about 6 to 8 minutes, being careful not to overcook the fish.

Serve on a bed of basmati rice and capers, and sprinkle with lime juice squeezed by hand.

Serves 8.

-- "Cooking with the Bible," by Anthony F. Chiffolo and Rayner Hesse Jr.


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