Cook like an Italian: don’t mix seafood and dairy

Photo via Cate Can Cook, So Can You!!

Now, please don’t get us wrong: there’s nothing wrong with mixing seafood and dairy, as in the dish, above, Gamberi alla Parmigiana, breaded prawns topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce by Cate Can Cook, So Can You!!

But to an Italian, the thought of mixing seafood and dairy is, frankly, repugnant.

No one really knows the origin of this taboo but it probably dates back to the Middle Ages when the consumption of meat and dairy was forbidden on “Lenten days.” The practice of not eating meat on Fridays and the night before Christmas, for example, is a trace of this gastronomic legacy in contemporary Catholic culture and ritual.

When you consult Italian cookery books from the Renaissance, the recipes are often classified by “Lenten” and “fat” days (mardi gras means literally “fat Tuesday,” the last day you could eat meat and dairy before Lent). On Lenten days, you ate seafood and avoided meat and dairy.

And while few Italians could tell you why they feel this way, the thought of mixing dairy and seafood is repulsive to them.

This is the reason why grated Parmigiano Reggiano is added to chicken and beef stock risotto and meat sauces like ragù alla bolognese but not to seafood dishes.

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