Nov 10 2023

Mat Schuster on Spanish Thanksgiving Appetizers

Make your Thanksgiving appetizers easy - and tasty - this year by adding Spanish flavor. We asked Mat Schuster of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar, San Francisco for his tips and tricks!

With Thanksgiving almost here, our thoughts turn to appetizers.  So how about adding Spanish flavors to the table? Executive chef Mat Schuster of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar, San Francisco, talks us through some Thanksgiving ideas to make celebrating easy - and packed with flavor!

What is your culinary background and your experience with Spanish cuisine?

“I own Canela, one of the Certified Restaurants From Spain, and we’ve been open since 2011 in San Francisco. I studied at California Culinary Academy and I’ve been working with food my whole career. My partner is from Spain and I fell in love with the culture and the cuisine on frequent trips there, resulting in different apprenticeships around Spain. Continuing to visit his family there over the years (around 40 times) I made it my mission to become comfortable cooking the recipes. I had to constantly educate myself - whereas the apprentices in Spain are young and haven’t traveled outside of their home region, I was coming in as a blank slate getting a sense of the regions of Spain, taking everything at face value. It really opened my eyes to good food - the concept of shopping more frequently with fresher ingredients.”

How does Spanish cuisine influence or enhance the traditional Thanksgiving menu?

“Since it’s part of the gourmet scene, I do think that when someone is doing their Thanksgiving shopping there is, for example, Spanish cheese, fig jam, Marcona almonds, jamón and chorizo that are popping up right alongside French and Italian premium products. If you aren't tied to Spain already, you may have noticed these displays of Spanish gourmet products around and therefore may be more likely to add them to your Thanksgiving appetizer platter. Spanish flavors can also enhance the dinner itself. The concept of fusion cuisine, in general, used to be a bad word but now everyone realizes that everything is fusion. If you live somewhere different from where you grew up, your traditional dishes made with the local vegetables are already a fusion. There is a big molecular gastronomy movement in Spain and I have learned a lot of reinvented - but traditionally Spanish - dishes that have become surprising to US diners here.”

What are some good Spanish ingredients to complement Thanksgiving flavors?

“The easiest place to start is with cheese and charcuterie - a young Mahon-Menorca DOP is a good gateway into Spanish cheeses. There is also some great goat or sheep milk cheese. Some people like to melt cheese onto their mashed potatoes so this is a good way to add Spanish flavor. We recently added sobrasada onto our menu. It comes from Spain and it is such a great and original product that you can spread it on mini toasts, or even rub your turkey with it. You could add Marcona almonds or some dried imported mushrooms - even black Spanish truffle - to your green bean casserole, or make a Marcona almond pie instead of pecan pie. If you want a great appetizer for the meal, try puff pastry canapé with goat cheese and fig jam."

Can you walk us through a couple of your Spanish appetizer recipes for Thanksgiving?

“Let’s go with the puff pastry canapé - this is a square of puff pastry with a cana de cabra roulade, cut a round of it and put it in the center of the puff pastry, then add a little fig jam, fold the corners, paint with a little beaten egg and cook in a hot oven. Then, I’d make bacon-wrapped dates but with serrano ham. Stuff a date with a piece of semi soft cheese like Tetilla from Galicia or the Mahón, wrap it with jamón serrano then fry it crispy and serve with piparras - little green peppers These appetizers are so popular and make sense at the Thanksgiving table - also, these are good recipes to make with your kid nieces and nephews who can help put them together.”

Are there any cooking techniques to share when preparing these appetizers?

“The nice thing about Spanish cooking is that it’s mamá’s cuisine - like home cooking. I was always impressed with how much food my partner’s mom could fit in to her small kitchen - and everything she cooks is on the stove top or oven. These are not complicated recipes - just simple techniques using less ingredients of really good quality that stand out on their own.”

Are there make-ahead options for busy holiday schedules that you can suggest?

“The puff pastry idea you can make ahead of time and keep in the fridge until you need to bake them. Some people like making ice cream to complement their dessert - we currently have a membrillo ice cream that is very easy to make ahead of time to complement your holiday desserts. Regarding your cheese and charcuterie, you can slice everything up the day before and then wrap it all tightly, so on the day you are simply assembling food on the board. If you are seasoning your turkey in advance, it is great to use jamón serrano, EVOO or even some sobrasada under the skin the day before and let it sit uncovered in the fridge to dry it out a bit.”

And, finally, what Spanish wine do you enjoy with Thanksgiving and seasonal appetizers?

“I would say that for Thanksgiving you could go with a white wine like a Godello for appetizers, but you could also try a rosé or a light red with the dinner - that’s one of the good things about gamey meats, playing up the pairings. For me, anything coming out of Galicia is great, but turkey is also great with DO Cava and Fino sherry!”