So you want to feast like a Mallorcan this Christmas?
It’s important to realize that Mallorcan traditions differ some from Catalonian/Barcelonian traditions. The people who came over to the Balearic Islands after James the First’s conquest (back in the 1200s) were mostly from Catalonia/Valencia/Barcelona. Those people were isolated on an island so they created new traditions. Meanwhile traditions back at home changed meaning the ones that stuck on the island served as a time capsule for 1200’s traditions.
For real, there is a special Christmas song involving a sword and talk of the apocalypse that has been preserved from the 1200s. It’s uncommon on the mainland but perfectly preserved 1200s-style on the islands. Here’s a super-cut of different people around the island singing it.
What we’re saying is don’t expect things to be like the mainland/Catalonia/Barcelona. This is Christmas Mallorca style (not Menorca, Ibiza or Formentera). Also don’t expect things to be focused around Christmas-Day. Traditionally there was a roast on Christmas but the real cooking would be on the 26th – San Estaban’s Day (a national holiday only in Catalonia, Barcelona and the Balearics). This was when the leftovers of the roast would be turned into more technical dishes like canelloni. We’ll do a post on San Estaban or Three King’s Day but for now this post is just Christmas.
To have a proper Mallorquin Christmas dinner you would need at least 2 or 3 courses. Soup, of course is mandatory. You’ll need booze and you’ll need dessert.
After midnight mass with the apocalypse sword song people would have sopa rellena “stuffed soup.” That was the extent of a Christmas dinner for years. Little by little the islands have been adopting new traditions, adding roast pork here,some stuffed turkey there. But in the beginning there was only stuffed soup. So while other traditions are questionable and regional, stuffed soup is universal. There are four or five soups that pop up but we’ll just focus on two.
Stuffed Soup / Sopa Rellena
What’s stuffed soup? Take very large macaroni noodles and stuff them with ground meat then boil them in a rich broth. How rich is the broth? It’s boiled with chicken, blood sausage, veal bones and turkey drumstick at minimum. Others add more meats like pork knuckle or really anything that can be boiled.
You’ll see Catalonian soups that have the same large macaroni noodles but are unstuffed or have extra meatballs on the side. There are variations on how the broth is made (which/how many vegetables go in), which minced meat is inside (beef or pork) and other variations of adding pine nuts into the fillings.
Stuffed soup used to be the only thing because it’s great on its own (it does have 5 different animals inside of it) or as a San Esteban feast. Anymore, because we’re all rich compared to the peasants of yesteryear, it’s merely a starter course.
White Soup / Sopa de Almendra /Crema de almendra
This is an extremely traditional soup dating back to the 1200s (before tuber vegetables were brought over from the new world). It’s not to be confused with the cold almond soup of Andalucia. It’s also not to be confused with a dessert soup. The dessert soup is made from marzipan and butter and thickened with bread. Wow. You’re welcome to eat that as a starter but when people have this as a starter they’re usually eating something less intense.
Almonds are toasted (sometimes), ground up and mixed with milk (sometimes almond milk) and broth. Modern recipes use leeks, nutmeg and food processors.
The main course would be some kind of roast. Depending on how wealthy you were it would be either pig, lamb or poultry. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, etc didn’t exist in Europe until the 15th century so the roasts weren’t accompanied by anything like that. Rather nuts and dried fruits, or maybe an onion sauce, were the sides/trimmings of choice. A nut-fruit sauce is actually still pretty common. Everyone has their own variations with apricots, prunes, or raisins.
Roasted Pork (Piglet)/ Porcella Rostida / Lechona Asada
Pork is peasant food so of course this is more traditional (we can’t all be royals). In the past it was braised with something simple like pomegranate sauce but now it has a whole system. A whole pig is covered in salt and lemon juice the night before. It’s slowly roasted, continuously adding and braising it with different herbs, garlic cloves, olive oil, white wine, and/or brandy/jerez for hours.
Modern day side dishes include baked potatoes, fries, and/or salad.
Turkey was traditionally not eaten because it didn’t exist in Europe until the 15th century. Now it’s getting more common. In the past it was duck, chicken or everyone’s favorite – a castrated rooster (capon).
A super traditional recipe is stuffed rooster, stuffed with ground almonds, red potatoes, apples and raisins. This recipe dates back to the 1200s with King James. It’s been changed over time to be with different nuts (like pine nuts or almonds) and instead of apples/raisins it can be made with prunes or apricots. There are, of course variations of stuffing it (or not stuffing it). Modern recipes also throw in some potatoes.
Escaldums is an un-stuffed version typical on the island. It’s chopped turkey with tomatoes, potatoes and sobrasada (local sausage). A nice grandma can teach you how to make it here.
Fish / Lubina Mallorquina
Sea bass stuffed with raisins, lemons and veggies. Recipe here.
Dessert is tricky because everyone has different desserts. Like American or British families you just have your dessert. Other families might be eating fudge but your family is always the cake family. My students all have about a hundred answers for their preferred Christmas desserts. Hot chocolate, brownies, cake, bonbons. Stuffed fried pies, cookies dusted with powdered sugar… the list goes on.
Coca de Navidad
Youtube Grandma Recipe here. This is basically just a bun with powdered sugar on it.
Tambor d´ametlla (literally “Drum of Almonds”)
Almonds grow really well on the island so there are loads of variations of almond pastries, breads, pies, ice creams, and brittles. For the sake of picking one – this is basically an almond version of peanut-brittle. Sugar (and sometimes a dash of coffee) is heated up with almonds into an extremely sticky paste. It’s flattened with a beating-tool or sometimes a lemon (for added flavor and beating-capacity). After it cools it’s chopped like peanut brittle. Youtube grandma’s recipe here.
Extremely popular on the mainland, too, you can’t really isolate turron’s popularity. It’s a nougat made with sugar, honey and egg (white). It can be filled with all kinds of crazy stuff, any nut, any dried fruit. Chocolate, egg yellows, lemon, cream or oreos can be folded in to the ingredients as well. Turron is almost always soft-ish but there are hard brittle-versions.
Turron Tort / Coca de torró
A homemade “turron” that is much flatter, sandwich-y version than your store-bought turron blocks (although you can find coca de torro in stores). Made with almonds, cinnamon, orange, and lemon and flattened between wafers. Grandma recipe here.
Shortbread / Mantegades (Mantecados)
Again, a winner on the mainland and the island. Find someone who doesn’t like mantecados. An absurdly-crumbly lard-based shortbread that melts in your mouth. It can come in any flavor: coconut, papaya, red wine, chocolate, almond, lemon, olive oil, etc, etc, etc. You can buy them by the kilogram all winter. They also come pre-wrapped on a cute little reusable Christmas plate. Teacher’s rooms across the nation are filled with them right now.
Since they’re prewrapped you can set them out as a snack or a casual dessert to eat while talking and hanging out with family. I would post my favorite youtube-grandma again but here’s someone else’s recipe just to be fair.
That wraps up Christmas dinner. Foods from the 26th or King’s Day are a whole other story for another time.