In Texas, Thanksgiving could very well be observed with a little paella in addition to the turkey.
The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated in Texas by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate on April 30, 1598.
I’m not trying to take away from the one held in New England in 1621. I’m just showing you a little bit of Texas history that should not be forgotten.
A couple of little factoids about Oñate: he was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, among the first of the Oñates to be able to claim Mexican heritage. He married Isabel de Tolosa Cortes Moctezuma, granddaughter of Hernando Cortes and great-granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.
Oñate came from an old Spanish family with connections in the court of King Phillip II of Spain. He was commanded by the king to colonize the upper Rio Grande valley previously explored by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján in 1540. Arriving in 1598, Oñate claimed the area at the spot where Ciudad Juárez–El Paso is now...and all of New Mexico too. April 30, 1598 was the feast day of the Ascension. In a makeshift church, the Te Deum was sung and Franciscan priests celebrated a solemn high Mass. Then “La Toma,” the formal ceremony of claiming new land, was observed. Supposedly, the Spanish army rode into formation on horseback in full armor and Oñate stepped forward to read the official proclamation.
“In the name of the most Holy Trinity…I take possession of this whole land this April 30, 1598, in honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this day of the Ascension of Our Lord…”
Historical accounts say that after the Thanksgiving Mass, the priests blessed a feast of fish, ducks, cranes and geese for a party of 600 Spanish soldiers and colonists. The rest of the day was spent in competitive games and theatrical entertainments.
Sounds a little like the way we observe Thanksgiving now, except for claiming chunks of land in the names of foreign kingdoms. Not much of that going on these days without some serious consequences.
All this history got me to thinking. It might be kind of fun to introduce some Spanish flavor into the tradition Thanksgiving meal. Paella is a rice dish that is actually more identified with Valencia than Spain as a whole. It’s made of white rice, green vegetables, meat, snails, beans and seasoning. It might be a pretty good complement to turkey. If snails aren’t your thing, you can do seafood paella, replacing the meat, snails, green veggies and beans with seafood.
In honor of Oñate, I’m contemplating planting a flag in my neighbor’s yard and claiming it as my own for the day with a battle of water balloons ensuing and the loser having to do yard work all next summer.
I will certainly enjoy a feast of native fowl (turkey) and then spend the day watching competitive games (football) and theatrical entertainment (endless Christmas television specials).
I’ll invite way less than 600 guests though. One has to draw the line somewhere.
As for the paella, I’ve never made it, so we can explore this recipe together. If you make it, let me know how it goes.
• Serves: 6-8
• Difficulty: Intermediate
• Preparation time: 60-90 minutes
• 1/2 pint of olive oil
• 2 cups of rice
• 5 cups of fish broth
• 1/2 lb. of shrimp
• 2 mid-sized squids, sliced
• 2 lb. of mussels or clams
• 1 green pepper, diced
• 1 red pepper
• 1 small can of peas
• 1 small onion
• 2 tomatoes
• 1 clove of garlic
Heat half of the oil and, once warm, add the chopped onion. After 5 minutes, add diced tomatoes, without seeds and peeled. Let it braise about 5 minutes more, mashing the tomatoes with a skimmer. Drain excess oil.
In a pot, begin to cook in cold water the shells of the shrimp, reserving the tails. In another ladle cook the mussels with little water (well washed before with water and salt). As soon as the shells open up, take them away and take off the half that doesn't have the bug, reserving the other halves and straining for a very fine strainer the broth where they have cooked, as well as that of the waste of the shrimp.
Add the rest of the oil to the paella pan. Add the diced green pepper. Add the squid and the rice. Keep stirring with a wooden tablespoon, without letting it go brown. Add salt and the fish broth, hot but not boiling. Shake the paella pan so that it is broth is evenly distributed. Cook over medium heat.
Meanwhile, mash a little bit of garlic, the parsley and the saffron, with a little bit of salt, and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Sprinkle this mixture on the rice and shake the paella pan. Add the shrimp tails and when the broth has reduced to the half, add red pepper, mussels and peas.
Let it cook about 20 minutes.
Once the rice is cooked and the broth has reduced, remove the paella pan from the heat and let it set about 5 minutes.
Garnish with lemon slices.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!