Nov 23 2017

Celebrating Thanksgiving, Spanish Style

Writer Adrienne Smith shares a few memories from her nearly two-decades of hosting Thanksgiving in Spain, where delicious food and wine – and even the occasional fiasco – always make this a memorable holiday.

Thanksgiving day menu: Turkey with stuffing

Text: Adrienne Smith/®ICEX

On my first Thanksgiving in Spain nearly two decades ago, I took a taxi across town with a twenty-pound turkey strapped to the seat next to me, en route to the home of a casual acquaintance who had miraculously agreed to let me borrow his oven while he was at work. Five hours and a still partially-cooked turkey later, my spirits were still high. The oven, however, was ready to give out, as was the antiquated electrical circuitry in the whole apartment building. Fortunately, as I waited for the electrician to arrive, I had the good luck to share an entire bottle of Oloroso sherry with the stuffing (an integral part of my recipe ever since). Sadly, I was the only one to savor this culinary discovery, as I had left all the side dishes sitting on the curb as we roared off – hot turkey in lap – through rush hour traffic. I was already two hours late and eighteen hungry people were awaiting their holiday meal at my house.

Since that fondly-remembered disaster, I have attempted Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday (a working day in Spain) only one other time, and that was when Spanish gourmet food company Cascajares gifted me their pre-made "Thanksgiving turkey", a collaboration with chef José Andrés. Freed from the joy/toil of cooking, not only was I able to host Thanksgiving on Thursday night after work, but I could also to throw myself fully into the wine selection. Truthfully, it’s pretty easy to compliment this varied meal with just about any Spanish wine, but still I've always favored pairing it with Brut Nature Reserva Cavas from Penedès, crisp rosados from NavarreMontsant or Ribera del Duero, for example, or creamy, barrel-fermented whites like those from Rías Baixas and Rueda. Of course Spanish reds also pair wonderfully with Thanksgiving. There was a year when Ribera del Duero winery Abadía Retuerta sent me a box with one of each of their meaty reds to try for an article I was writing. The elegant PV Petit Verdot was pure velvet with the turkey, but the Pago Negralada 100% Tempranillo exploded with layers of rich, ripe fruit and silky tannins that blew that turkey right out of the water, so to speak. Too bad there was only one bottle of it.

Mingling flavors

In addition to the now ever-present bottle of good Spanish sherry for Thanksgiving dinner (one sip for the stuffing and one for me...), other delectable Spanish ingredients have made their way into my culinary repertoire. Nowadays you can find almost any fresh international ingredient you might need for your Thanksgiving dinner here in Madrid. Good riddance to the pre-reserved, ten-euro can of imported cranberry jelly. But it used to be hard to find many ingredients I had been accustomed to using in the tried-and-true recipes that have followed me since my very first time hosting Thanksgiving, in college. In any case, what began as a search for substitutes soon turned into a list of quality Spanish ingredients that I can no longer do without on this holiday. Fresh butifarra pork sausage diced and fried, pine nuts from Valladolidgrapes from the Mediterranean coast and apples from Girona are essentials in my traditional stuffing. And the only time I've strayed from this recipe was for an opportunity to cook with the incredible variety of fresh wild mushrooms from Spain that I saw piled high at the market one rainy autumn day. Now my turkey gets drenched in extra virgin olive oil before receiving a sprinkling of smoky pimentón from La Vera and – if it's very lucky – I might inject it with some Spanish brandy from Jerez. Also, my pies are even better here, being made from fresh Spanish-grown pumpkins I've roasted myself, first from necessity and later by choice.

My guess is that most Americans in Spain tend to celebrate Thanksgiving on the following Saturday. That and the lack of American football on TV after lunch are the main differences between hosting Thanksgiving on this side of the Atlantic or the other. After all, Thanksgiving recipes in the United States have always reflected regional culinary traditions and a person's own cultural background. In fact, the way this traditional meal so easily welcomes a cultural melting pot of flavors is exactly why it's my favorite holiday.