The Two Best Spices To Add A Spanish Flare To Your Holiday Dishes

Ever wonder what the best spices are to add a Spanish flare to your holiday dishes? In a quest to uncover extraordinary and memorable flavors during the holidays, Tasting Table sat down for a conversation with Chef Mat Schuster, owner and executive chef of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar in San Francisco and a maestro of Spanish cuisine. "One easy way to infuse Spanish flavors is with a few key spices," he told us. And the two best spices to add a Spanish zest to your holiday dishes, according to Schuster, are pimentón and saffron.

Schuster believes pimentón, aka Spanish paprika, is a game-changer. Available in various forms — mild, smoked, spicy, or sweet — it imparts a rich color and a complex flavor profile. For a taste of Spain, Schuster suggests combining pimentón with a touch of salt, then using the mixture as a dry rub for fish, pork, poultry, or other proteins. While simple, the taste will be delicious, transforming ordinary ingredients into a celebration of Spanish flavors. Saffron, a jewel among spices, is renowned for its delicate red threads, unique flavor, and notably high price, which stems from the labor-intensive manual harvesting and the vast quantity of flowers required to produce just a pound of it.

Saffron, a red but golden thread in Spanish holiday cooking

"Saffron is another great way to get the flavors of Spain into your holiday dishes," Mat Schuster asserts. The chef describes the transformative power of this pricy spice in holiday cooking, and Its application is versatile and impactful. "Stirred into aiolis or mayonnaise, a few threads in a homemade broth, or even kneaded into dough is a fast and effective way to bring the flavors of Spain to your party this holiday season," Schuster recommends. 

When mixed into aiolis or mayonnaise, saffron adds a luxurious depth, perfect for accompanying grilled seafood or roasted vegetables. Adding saffron to soups and broths will bring warmth and richness. The resulting dishes will be festive and comforting. Kneading saffron directly into dough infuses breads and pastries with an unmistakable aroma and flavor, making them stand out. Following Schuster's guidance, home cooks venturing into Spanish cuisine will find a world of possibilities. The strategic use of pimentón and saffron can effortlessly infuse your holiday dishes with Spanish touches, bringing the essence of Spain to your holiday table.