EVOO Shines in Michelin Star Chef’s Traditional Christmas Eve Dinner

Periko Ortega worked at two Michelin-star restaurants before opening his own, ReComiendo.

Periko Ortega
By Daniel Dawson
Dec. 14, 2022 16:15 UTC
Periko Ortega

The Christmas sea­son is rapidly approach­ing in Spain when the coun­try effec­tively shuts down from December 24 to January 6.

On the night of the 24th, known as Nochebuena, many Spaniards and Spanish res­i­dents will gather with fam­ily and friends to cel­e­brate the event with a deca­dent din­ner. Celebrations gen­er­ally begin at 9 p.m. and last until the early hours of the morn­ing.

Nochebuena is dif­fer­ent in every house. But extra vir­gin olive oil is always present.- Periko Ortega, chef, ReComeindo

Periko Ortega, the award-win­ning chef behind ReComiendo, one of the most highly rated restau­rants in Spain and Europe, told Olive Oil Times that some peo­ple spend nearly a week prepar­ing the meal.

For me, the prepa­ra­tion is done on the same day,” he said. I wake up early and pre­pare the meal, spend­ing all day in the kitchen with the fam­ily cook­ing and try­ing the food.”

See Also:Chefs in France Bring Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Christmas Dinners

Born in Jaén, the heart of Spanish olive coun­try, extra vir­gin olive oil has always been an inte­gral part of Ortega’s life and fea­tures as the star ingre­di­ent in almost every one of his Nochebuena dishes.

First of all, in each din­ner, Christmas din­ner too, extra vir­gin olive oil is the best appe­tizer,” he said.

Along with a tra­di­tional plat­ter of entreme­ses, an assort­ment of char­cu­terie and cheeses, Ortega serves bread to dip in fresh extra vir­gin olive oil. The type of oil Ortega uses for this pur­pose entirely depends on how the pre­vi­ous mon­th’s har­vest has gone.

This year, he will use a blend of Hojiblanca and Picuda for dip­ping the bread. However, in pre­vi­ous years, he has used Picual and Arbequina.

Traditional wis­dom sur­round­ing cook­ing with olive oil rec­om­mends using fresh extra vir­gin for dip­ping bread and driz­zling on salad while reserv­ing last year’s oils for sauteéing, bak­ing and roast­ing.

However, Ortega uses only freshly-pro­duced extra vir­gin olive oil in all his meal prepa­ra­tions and at his restau­rant.

This year, for a first course, we will have an extra vir­gin olive oil par­men­tier,” he said. It is made with only two ingre­di­ents: pota­toes and extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Parmentier de patata takes its name from Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French nutri­tion­ist who even­tu­ally con­vinced Napolean Bonaparte to end his ban on the cul­ti­va­tion of pota­toes in France.

The dish is sim­i­lar to mashed pota­toes and can be eaten as a side dish or used to gar­nish oth­ers on the Nochebuena table.

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After bak­ing the pota­toes for one hour and mix­ing them in a blender, Ortega adds 10 per­cent Picual extra vir­gin olive oil, salt and pep­per. We use Picual because it is a strong extra vir­gin olive oil, a lit­tle bit spicy and bit­ter,” he said.

This year, he plans to serve his par­men­tier de patata with foie gras or egg fourchette.

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For the sec­ond course, we have wild sea bass cooked over low heat in extra vir­gin olive oil of the Hojiblanca vari­ety,” Ortega said. Hojiblanca smells like freshly-cut grass, it is spicy and the fla­vor goes very well with the sea bass.”

He puts the sea bass in the pan before gen­er­ously cov­er­ing the fish in extra vir­gin olive oil and sautéing it for seven min­utes at 65 ºC.

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In other parts o the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly Spain’s north­ern and east­ern coasts, fish play a more promi­nent role in the tra­di­tional Nochebuena din­ner. However, Ortega rec­om­mends cook­ing any fish dish with del­i­cate extra vir­gin olive oil.

See Also:Pairing Extra Virgin Olive Oils with Fish and Meat Dishes

The next course is the meat,” Ortega said. This year, we are hav­ing Iberian pork sir­loin.”

Iberian pork sir­loin is a low-fat, high-pro­tein cut of meat com­ing from the part of the pig between the lower ribs and spine.

Ortega has a three-step method to pre­pare this clas­sic dish. First, he roasts the pork for 45 min­utes at 54 ºC before remov­ing the meat from the oven and plac­ing it in a vac­uum-sealed back with a Cornicabra extra vir­gin olive oil, chili and a lit­tle bit of salt.

For the pork, we need an extra vir­gin olive oil with a strong fla­vor,” he said. I use Cornicabra because it is more bit­ter. For exam­ple, the olive oil fla­vor is lost if you pair an Arbequina vari­ety with the pork.”

Once the meat is sealed in the bag, Ortega bakes the pork for another 45 min­utes at 54 ºC. Once it has come out of the oven, he roasts the pork with a torch until the skin becomes crispy.

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Ortega also plans to serve sweet pota­toes roasted in extra vir­gin olive oil with the Iberian pork sir­loin. He usu­ally adds the sweet pota­toes into the vac­uum-sealed back so the fla­vor of the olive oil, pork and potato meld together. However, he said that the pota­toes could also be pre­pared sep­a­rately.

In other parts of the coun­try, notably cen­tral Spain, the tra­di­tional Nochebuena din­ner includes roasted lamb instead of Iberian pork sir­loin.

Ortega is not per­son­ally mak­ing this dish for his din­ner but said it should be pre­pared sim­i­larly with a robust extra vir­gin olive oil, once again to avoid the fla­vor of the lamb over­pow­er­ing that of the olive oil.

And now the most impor­tant part of any Christmas Eve din­ner is the dessert,” Ortega said. This year, he plans to bake extra vir­gin olive oil brown­ies.

Ortega makes his brown­ies with dark choco­late com­prised of 65 per­cent cacao, eggs and Arbequina extra vir­gin olive oil. There are only three ingre­di­ents,” he said. No flour. No but­ter. Only choco­late, eggs and extra vir­gin olive oil.”

First, Ortega melts 250 grams of choco­late before mix­ing it with 120 grams of olive oil. Next, he sep­a­rates the whites from the yokes of three eggs before whisk­ing all the ingre­di­ents together and bak­ing them in a pan for 60 min­utes at 160 ºC.

Finally, no Nochebuena din­ner is com­plete with­out polvorones, a tra­di­tional Spanish short­bread cookie made with extra vir­gin olive oil or pork fat. For me, they are bet­ter with extra vir­gin olive oil,” Ortega said.

The recipe is so easy, too,” he added. You need sugar, extra vir­gin olive oil, almonds and cin­na­mon or cacao for fla­vor.”

Ortega starts the process by grind­ing almonds with flour before bak­ing the com­bi­na­tion in the oven. Next, he removes the mix­ture and com­bines it with extra vir­gin olive oil and the other ingre­di­ents before return­ing the mix­ture to the oven and bak­ing it some more.

While Spain is a diverse coun­try with dif­fer­ent cul­tures and culi­nary tra­di­tions, polvorones are a uni­ver­sal treat to fin­ish off the night. Extra vir­gin olive oil, too, is an essen­tial ingre­di­ent for whichever dishes or being served.

Nochebuena is dif­fer­ent in every house,” Ortega said. But extra vir­gin olive oil is always present.”


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