Yes, it’s that time of year again. My favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Leave it to the American consciousness to create a holiday devoted to feasting and gluttony. I love it. We Puerto Ricans have our own version of the cooked bird. It’s more highly seasoned than its North American counterpart and, in my humble opinion, more flavorful. You see, back in the days of yore, in Puerto Rico, the main staple for the holidays was pernil, or roasted pork shoulder. For health and other reasons, turkey has supplanted the pernil. But, guess what—we spice up the turkey to taste like pork, or a la criolla (creole style). So, here it is, the Puerto Rican Thanksgiving turkey which we normally serve with yellow rice and pigeon peas (gandules). The recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (The Perseus Books Group).
PAVO RELLENO A LA CRIOLLA
(Stuffed Roast Turkey)
1 81/2 pound pound dressed-weight turkey
5 cloves garlic, peeled
6 whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons paprika
1/4 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 packet sazon accent (Goya makes a good one with coriander and annato)
1/2 cup stuffed pimento stuffed Spanish olives
4 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1. Rinse and wash turkey, inside and out, and wipe dry. Do the same with the heart, liver and gizzard, and then chop innards coarsely. This will be combined with the ground beef when preparing the stuffing.
2. Pound together the garlic, peppercorns, oregano and 3 teaspoons of salt in a mortar. Add 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons paprika, vinegar, and combine. Rub the turkey with the seasoning inside and out—what my mother calls “abodar el pavo” (seasoning the beast). This is done a day ahead (the turkey should be left overnight, in a covered pot, in the refrigerator). This will allow it to absorb the flavors.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan or kettle. Add the ground beef and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the meat loses its color. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in the sazon, olives, capers, tomato sauce and remaining teaspoon salt. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to complete the stuffing.
4. Remove from heat and let cool. Stuff the turkey loosely about three quarters full. Truss the turkey (sew or skewer together the neck and bind the legs).
5. Place turkey in a roasting pan breast side down. To insure a golden brown exterior combine the remaining 2 tablespoons paprika with the remaining olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the entire turkey with this mixture and roast in a slow to moderate over (325 degrees F.) for 3 1/2 hours. To brown bird, raise temperature to 350 degrees during the last 25 minutes of cooking. This is an excellent way of cooking if in doubt as to tenderness of turkey. Some people prefer covering the turkey with aluminum foil while roasting, and removing this during last 20-30 minutes of cooking time to brown the skin. I find that frequent basting during cooking gets the same result.
Baking theories abound. There is the old traditionalist view that allows 1 1/2 hours for the first pound and then 25 minutes per pound up to 7 pounds and 20 minutes per pound after that. Thus, a 5 pound bird would take 3 hours and 20 minutes, a 7 pounder would take 4 hours and 10 minutes, and a 10 pounder 5 hours and 10 minutes. But in my view, there’s no set rule. Some birds take more time to roast, some less. In the Rivera family we go by general common sense: figure a 7 to 8 pounder takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours to cook; a 10 pounder maybe 4 1/2 hrs., and a 12 pound turkey maybe 5-5 1/2 hours. Rule of thumb: turkey is done when drumstick and thigh move easily.
6. For gravy: remove turkey from roasting pan and keep warm. Drain drippings from roasting pan into a sauce pan. Skim off the fat but retain 1/4 cup of the drippings. Add 2 cups water or 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1 1/2 cups water to pan drippings. Bring to a boil over high heat while stirring in the 1/4 cup fat. Lower heat and thicken slightly with a little cornstarch and water combined. If you want to reduce the grease content, mix 3 teaspoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water. Add this to the strained pan drippings and heat, thereby omitting the reaming fat content.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.