How To Put A Spanish Twist On Your Next Holiday Party

If you're wondering how to add a Spanish twist to your next holiday party, we've got you covered. In a conversation with Mat Schuster, owner and executive chef of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar in San Francisco and a maestro of Spanish cuisine, we delved into simple yet elegant ideas to elevate your feast. Schuster's first recommendation is to go small. According to the chef, a cornerstone of Spanish holiday cuisine is pintxos (pinchos), or small bites. He explains, "In the north of Spain, specifically around the Basque country, they have a tradition of pintxos or small bites on toothpicks. These are fantastic for holiday gatherings." Schuster suggests a selection of skewered delicacies to suit various tastes and dietary restrictions. 

Some of his favorite creations include blanched marble potatoes wrapped in Serrano ham and finished with pickled onions and a cherry tomato, poached shrimp adorned with homemade aioli and fresh tarragon, and young Mahon cheese paired with gordal olives and piparras (Basque pickled peppers).

For a more interactive experience for your guests, Schuster proposes a DIY pintxo party. "Let your guests skewer their own pintxos with a selection of items," he says. This could include Spanish boqueroñes (anchovies in vinegar), grilled mushrooms, fried potato cubes, and small sausages, offering a fun and customizable aspect to the holiday meal, especially for those looking to deviate from the usual cheese or butter boards.

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Chef Mat Schuster continues,"Spaniards have a giant selection of conserves that make hosting a party super easy." He recommends artisanal preserved foods, such as mussels in escabeche (a vinegary paprika sauce), olive oil-packed ventresca (tuna belly), Spanish olives, cured chorizo, and aged Spanish ham. Serve these alongside "a stack of grilled bread" for an easy yet impressive appetizer.

"A Spanish cheese platter is another slam dunk," Schuster enthuses. He suggests trying saffron-infused Golden Fleece, Caña de Cabra, and Tetilla, complemented with Marcona almonds, quince paste, Spanish honey, fig cakes, dates, walnuts, and assorted crackers and breads. For main courses, simplicity is key. "Go with something ... like a whole roasted fish (much easier than it sounds), with mushrooms and Cava (a family favorite), simple grilled lamb chops with romesco sauce or seared, garlic-y prawns," suggests the chef.

Finally, wine pairings are also crucial for an authentically-themed holiday party. Schuster advises a diverse selection: "Begin with Cava, a Spanish sparkling white or rose wine from the forenamed region or a Fino Sherry, which goes great with those savory hams and cheeses," he recommends. For red wine lovers, tempranillo pairs well with meats and chocolate, while Godello wine from Galicia offers a dry taste with great minerality. An adventurous addition could be Spanish red or white vermouth, served on the rocks with an orange slice and olive, which Schuster describes as "delicious and a conversation starter."