I think I have quizzed you on this important fact. What country celebrates the longest holiday season?
If you answered anything other than a rousing “Puerto Rico!”, click here for my original tutorial on Puerto Rican Christmas. One sentence summary? Puerto Rican Christmas stretches from the day after Thanksgiving to mid January. That gives you plenty of time to enjoy the delicacies of the season, cleanse your palate from the overdose of lechón, arroz con gandules, and coconut sweets, and then do it all over again before it is time for la Calle San Sebastián.
This is a roundup of some of my favorite Puerto Rican Christmas recipes and flavors to carry you through the different stages of our beloved holiday season. How about some music to get things started? Hit play and off we’ll go…
The video’s accompanying slide show gives a beautiful glimpse of the Puerto Rican Christmas traditions.
I won’t blame you if you stop to see the whole clip before continuing with the rest of the post.
The Picadera Party
Your friends and family are warming up for the holiday season with impromptu gatherings. Surely someone has a deep fryer waiting to come out to fry these pastelillos de morcilla (fried morcilla turnovers). Morcilla – pork blood sausage – is a delicacy beloved by many and misunderstood by just as many. These spicy sausages are removed from their casings, stuffed into pre-made pastelillo dough rounds, crimped and fried.
Need a vinegary palate cleanser for all the fried foods heading your way? Grab a bite of gandules en escabeche – extra points if you scoop them with chicharrones. This version has a bit of lemon zest to brighten up the earthy gandules.
All these smaller bites are also great for evening gatherings on the two day-to-night celebrations: Christmas and Three Kings Day. Many of your guests might have made earlier stops with the relatives from “el otro lado de la familia” and might just need a bite or three to keep them going.
The Main Event
In addition to Christmas Day and Three Kings Day, two other dates jump out as ‘Big Holiday Meal’ days: Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and New Year’s Eve. If you are like me, chances are you will stand in line for about thirty minutes for your favorite lechón. Stateside? No lechonera? No problem.
My friend Rebeca’s pernil (pork shoulder) is seasoned the night before. Her trick for getting that impossibly crispy skin? She trims off the excess fat (what excess fat?) from the pork skin and scores it. The result? Chicharrón volao and succulent roast pork, all in one.
Want to pull off a nouveau lechón? Swap the traditional Italian seasonings in this porchetta recipe for the traditional Puerto Rican adobo. This porchetta consists of a center cut pork loin surrounded by pork belly. If you let the skin on the pork belly dry out in the refrigerator overnight, you’ll be rewarded with cuerito to rival Guavate’s best.
On the sides front, you need a nice acidic acompañante to balance the delicious flavors of the pork. Quick pickled green bananas (guineitos en escabeche) with onions and capers tingle your taste buds. My favorite shortcut for making these? Buying already boiled green bananas at the lechonera.
Christmas Flair for the Holiday-Fatigued
No more pork! – said some people after a while. It’s time to break out the understated Christmas warrior, the pastelón de yuca. Even your friends who claim not to like pasteles, will dig into this smooth, oven baked casserole. The fillings are limited up to your imagination, but we love it with shredded stewed chicken thighs or beef and ham picadillo. Break out the sofrito and stew away.
Sometimes it’s not the food as much as the packaging… chunks of pork, mound of arroz con gandules, etc. that bore people after a while. Mix everything together in a risotto de gandules made with ham stock and packed with ham and chorizo chunks. The paprika and garlic in the chorizo will wake up any numb taste buds.
Done with coconut sweets but still craving tropical comfort? This arborio rice pudding is layered with guava sauce. In a pinch, canned guava marmalade can replace the homemade sauce. If you are doing small plastic cups, spoon the guava sauce in the bottom and top with the rice pudding.
And for a sweet finish…
To speak of Puerto Rican Christmas sweets, is to speak of coconut. For coquito flavors you can sink your teeth into, make a batch of this mallorca bread pudding with coconut sauce. The cinnamon in the bread pudding is a nod to tembleque, my favorite of the traditional Christmas desserts.
I hope you enjoyed our Puerto Rican Christmas recipes! Click through all your favorites, ask as many questions as you want on Facebook, Twitter or the comments section. Share with us your favorite twists on the traditional dishes too. Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo a todos!