Dec 22 2021

A Tasty Christmas: A Holiday Season with Spanish Flavors

Ibérico ham, cheese, seafood, turrón... The list of gourmet delicacies that can be served is endless.

Christmas is a time to reunite with family, friends and loved ones. Speaking of gastronomy: it's time to return to traditional flavors... or is it? What if, for one year, the holidays serve as an excuse to try Spanish gastronomy in its broadest sense? There are many options for appetizers and starters, as well as for main dishes... Not to mention renowned Spanish Christmas sweets. Additionally, there are wines for every palate, both for those who prefer reds and for those who prefer whites, as well as for those who prefer sparkling wines to celebrate... Keep reading for a selection of proposals that are true gifts, even if they're on the table instead of under the tree...

Ibérico ham, cheese, canned foods... starters that are a pleasure

If there's one thing that absolutely must be served at a Spanish Christmas celebration it's Ibérico ham from any of the four designations of origin (JabugoGuijueloExtremadura and Los Pedroches). These holidays are the ideal time of the year to serve a plate or two of sliced ham and let your guests eat them with their hands (not only can you skip the cutlery here, but you should).

The extremely wide variety of Spanish cheeses makes it possible to create varied boards, where the intensity increases. You could start with a fresh cheese from Burgos, continue with a semi-cured Manchego, and move on to enjoy the intensity of a Torta del Casar, with its creamy texture and penetrating and seductive aroma... The finishing touch can be a blue cheese, such as Cabrales or Valdeón. An authentic celebration for the senses. Of course, we can't forget canned fish. Anchovies from Santoñatuna belly from Andalusia, mussels from Galicia... opening up a can of any of them is like uncovering the essences of the best products...

Marina Rivas, chef and co-author with Inés Ortega of books such as Our Menus and The Cuisine of the Four Seasons is the successor of Simone Ortega, possibly the most popular and respected cookbook writer in Spain during the second half of the 20th century. To enjoy Spanish products in style, she proposes giving Christmas appetizers a modern twist with very simple ideas. "One possibility with Ibérico ham is to cut it up into small cubes and serve them in brown paper cones, as if they were popcorn, to change up the usual way of eating it a little bit..." Rivas also encourages playing with cheeses and canned foods to create delicious canapés. One example is a slice of bread "as thin as possible, on which we put some Payoyo cheese from Cádiz or a truffled cheese from any part of the country. We add an anchovy on top to give shape to an irresistible snack."

Main dishes with 100% Spanish flavor

For those who have fallen in love (and this is perfectly understandable) with the perfect subtlety of Ibérico ham's infiltrated fat, there is the option of continuing with a cut of Ibérico pork. Sirloin, loin, secreto... can be the perfect main dish prepared in the oven; the result is always juicy and appetizing. For those who prefer lamb, there are options with protected geographical indication seals (Castile-León, Ternasco de AragónCordero de NavarraCordero Segureño...) that ensure the product is the very best quality. More options? Veal from Galicia, Asturias and Ávila and the traditional capón from Vilalba (Galicia), ready to be stuffed.

Those who prefer to feast on seafood on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day should also look to Spain: Carril clams, scallops, razor clams from Galicia and red prawns from Huelva or Palamós. These are delicacies that only need to be cooked or grilled for a few seconds. Then you add a little salt, and enjoy!

Rivas recommends a good Ibérico pork tenderloin prepared with mustard and honey baked in the oven as a dish that is "perfect for making everyone happy." She also encourages us to recover classic Spanish recipes to prepare fish a la bilbaína—with garlic, chili pepper, parsley, vinegar and olive oil—and poultry en pepitoria—with an almond sauce.

Sweets, the culmination of Christmas

Turrón, marzipan, polvorones... are synonymous with Christmas in Spain and are sweets that are meant to be enjoyed. They do have one thing in common: they're perfect for people who love almonds. Hard turrón from Alicante and soft turrón from Jijona, polvorones and mantecados from Estepa (Seville), and handmade marzipan from Toledo provide the perfect finishing touch to any celebration during the holidays.

Turrón is usually cut into small pieces and served at the end of the meal. The same tray usually includes polvorones, marzipan and other sweets, such as "stuffed almonds," which are actually made of round wafers and filled with turrón cream. There's also peladillas, prepared with almonds and covered with a candied layer.

These sweets can be enjoyed in more ways than their original formats. Rivas explains that the small pieces of soft turrón that are left uneaten can be used as the base of "wonderful mousses and ice creams." This allows us to take advantage of every last crumb of these very traditional Christmas sweets. "Additionally, they're an original and fun way to eat turrón," explains the chef.

Pairings for all tastes

The holidays are for toasting, and Spain has a selection of drinks for every part of the meal, from appetizer to dessert. A vermouth from Reus (Catalonia) served in a glass with ice can be the perfect way to welcome guests. White wines made with Albariño grapes from Rías Baixas (Galicia) or Verdejo from Rueda (Castile-León) are also ideal for serving with appetizers. At the beginning of the meal, we might enjoy our Ibérico ham with a glass of Fino sherry or canned fish with the irresistible salinity of a Manzanilla from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

The enormous variety of red wines, from DOs such as RiojaToroJumilla and Priorat, pair perfectly with almost any meat or baked fish dish. As for desserts, there's nothing like a glass of Fondillón from Alicante or brandy de Jerez to enjoy the evening in the best company... that of the flavors of Spanish gastronomy.

Javier Sánchez/@ICEX