Christmas in Spain is celebrated, above all else, at the table. Families pack into overflowing dining rooms for holiday meals that last longer than most American football games. Spanish Christmas recipes that have been passed down through the generations are the main event. The holiday season starts with a huge dinner on Christmas Eve and doesn’t let up until the final slice of Roscón de Reyes cake is finished on Three Kings Day on January 6.
There are five giant meals in all before the season is over: Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day lunch, New Year’s Eve dinner, New Year’s Day lunch and Three Kings Day lunch. Each goes a bit like this:
- Appetizer: Giant buffet of tapas
- First course: Soup
- Second course: Roasted meat or fish
- Dessert: Three-part banquet of Christmas sweets
While the menu varies widely from family to family and region to region, here are a few Spanish Christmas recipes to give you a taste of the holidays in Spain.
As the family gathers for the meal, a bounty of small dishes, spreads and finger foods covers the table. The tapas (small dishes) and aperitivos (appetizers) range from patés spread over crackers to tuna tartare. This phase of the meal almost always includes various seafood dishes, most commonly shrimp, prawns or langoustines.
Tetilla Cheese Puffs with Sesame Seeds and Honey
Smooth Tetilla cheese from the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia is the star of these lightly fried cheese puffs. With a hint of smoky paprika and a sweet drizzle of local honey, they tend to disappear quickly!
You won’t find cheese puffs very often in Spain, but at Christmas no holds are barred. This is a time when people break out new recipes and creative creations to add some flare to the traditional dishes.
Get the recipe for these Tetilla cheese puffs here.
Perfect Boiled Shrimp
No Spanish Christmas table is complete without shrimp. While these little sea creatures go by many names in Spain, some of the most popular varieties are langostinos (prawn or jumbo shrimp) and gambas (deepwater rose shrimp).
During the holidays shrimp are served in many different ways. They are mixed into salads, chopped into savory tartlets, tucked into mini-sandwiches and stacked whole onto plates under a sprinkle of salt. If you can get your hands on some of Spain’s best shrimp, like fresh gambas rojas from the southern town of Huelva, definitely go for a simple recipe like this Perfect Boiled Shrimp to let their true flavor shine.
Cured Ham Croquettes
Cured Iberian ham is a must at Spanish Christmas dinners. More of this delectable cured ham is sold in December than in every other month of the year! While the good stuff is served in paper thin slices to be savored all by itself, the less knightly hams often make their way into a variety of traditional tapas.
My personal favorite is croquettes. Cured Serrano ham and béchamel cream sauce on the inside, olive oil fried crust on the outside. Spanish croquettes are my vice. Here’s how to make traditional Spanish croquettes!
After a trove of tapas, things start getting serious. The small plates are whisked away to be replaced by a dish requiring proper utensils. Most often the first course is a light, brothy soup or a salad.
Spanish Ahi and Shrimp Soup
The parade of seafood does not stop at tapas. Many of the most traditional first courses at a Spanish holiday meal consist of some type of seafood soup. Common ingredients include shrimp, clams and mussels along with fish like hake or monk.
This recipe using tuna and shrimp is just light enough not to spoil your appetite but not at all short on flavor.
In Catalonia the Christmas soup always comes with a specific type of pasta shell called a galet. During the holidays giant plastic sculptures of the shells are part of the Christmas decorations in many cities in the region.
Galets Soup gets its rich flavor from the meat that is boiled with the soup. While the large cuts are saved for the second course, ground meat is often stuffed into the shells or served alongside them as in this recipe.
Tuna Belly, Blood Orange and Avocado Salad
A light salad is also sometimes seen as the first course at Spain’s holiday meals. Salads here tend to let the vegetables and toppings shine by using very light dressings. Often times a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of vinegar is all the dressing it needs!
A Spanish Sabores favorite of mine is this tuna belly, blood orange and avocado salad.
It’s a good thing that Christmas meals in Spain are hours-long affairs, otherwise I’d never be hungry enough by the time the second course came! And trust me, you want to be hungry for this. The rest of the meal seems like child’s play compared to most second course dishes. Roasting is the name of the game whether it be lamb, fish, turkey or suckling pig.
Baked Gilt Head Bream with Lemon and Herbs
If the holiday meal is at night, the main course is most often going to be fish. Some of the most popular Christmas fish in Spain are lubina (European seabass), rodaballo (turbot), dorada (gilt head bream) and bacalao (cod).
In this recipe for baked dorada with lemon and herbs, the fish is baked whole, locking in moisture and ensuring the fish turns out nice and juicy.
Slow-Roasted Andalusian-Style Lamb and Potatoes
Neighborhood butcher shops are bustling places during the Christmas season as families bustle in to order and pick up their meat for roasting. More often than not, that meat is lamb. While suckling pig and even some beef recipes may make it to the table, the dish I most often hear about at Spanish Christmas dinners is roasted lamb.
This recipe from Bon Appétit makes a darn good rendition of a traditional Spanish roasted lamb using ingredients that are easy to find outside of Spain.
I could do a whole post on Spanish Christmas desserts. Just when you think the eating has ended, a three-part dessert awaits. First comes what you might typically think of as dessert: flan, pudding, cake or tarts. Next is the spread of traditional Christmas sweets like turrón (nougat and almond bars), polverones (powdery almond cookies), fig bars and candied fruits. Last comes the liqueurs like brandy or orujo (moonshine-like liqueur distilled from grape skins often flavored with herbs or made into a creamy Bailey’s like liqueur).
Orange Olive Oil Cake
An incredibly moist cake that would go perfectly with a post-lunch coffee. The olive oil in the recipe really comes through, meaning you should use the good stuff!
Arroz con Leche
Simple, delicious and not too heavy, arroz con leche is a perfect Christmas dessert. A hint of cinnamon makes this cold, creamy rice pudding extra delicious.
Turrón de Alicante
While there are now umpteen types of turrón, the classic recipe is short and sweet: honey, almonds, sugar and egg whites. This recipe for turrón duro (or hard turrón) is from Alicante. A very similar version from Jijona, known as turrón blando (soft turrón) is much softer and reminds me of a sweeter, more compact version of almond butter.
What are your go-to Spanish Christmas recipes?
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