Turkey is the symbol of Thanksgiving in the United States because
the earliest European Americans famously enjoyed wild turkey as
part of their first Thanksgiving meal in 1621. The turkey is indeed
an American bird with subspecies ranging over North and Central
America, but the first domesticated turkeys - and all domesticated
turkeys raised in the world today - originated in Mexico.
The University of Florida reported in a 2012 study that turkeys were possibly domesticated and traded throughout Mexico and Central America as early as 300 B. C., judging by bones of a turkey species native to northern Mexico found in a Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala.
With more than 2,000 years of turkey preparation under their belts, how is Turkey prepared in Mexico and Central America?
"In El Salvador, we serve turkey at Christmastime," said Theresa Alfaro of Los Alfaro Taste of Latin America on Kentucky Avenue.
"If we want to stuff the turkey, we use a small one, about 8 to 10 pounds.
"Larger turkeys we cut up before we soak it in a marinade and it takes the flavors better and cooks more quickly."
The traditional Salvadoran recipe for turkey involves an overnight slathering of mustard, soy sauce, minced garlic and Worcestershire sauce, then a long slow bake surrounded by a mixture of prunes, capers, onions, peppers, tomatoes, other vegetables and wine. All the drippings and veggies are pured into a flavorful sauce while the turkey rests. For an even richer, mol-like sauce, nuts, seeds and dried chilies can be added to the mixture.
"Adding the seeds and nuts makes the sauce special," Alfaro said. "It's similar to a chicken dish I make here at the restaurant. You can use guajillo or pasilla chili for the sauce. We also roast the giblets with the turkey, add when you add the vegetables, and pure those right up in the sauce. You can add garbanzo beans and black olives to the vegetables too, to make the sauce even thicker."
For a holiday turkey stuffing, a mixture is made with ground beef and vegetables.
"If the turkey is small and we want to stuff it, we cook ground beef with carrots, green beans, diced tomatoes and potatoes, onions and garlic," Alfaro said. "It's seasoned with salt and pepper and a little chicken bouillon. Then we stuff the turkey with that. It never overcooks because it's inside the turkey."
PAVO SALVADOREO - SALVADORAN TURKEY
Source: Whatsforeats.com, adapted by Theresa Alfaro Serves 8-10
1 whole turkey, with giblets, around 8 pounds (a larger turkey can be used, but should be cut into pieces before marinating)
cup Dijon mustard
cup Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
10 tomatoes, peeled and cored
6 onions, chopped 6 green peppers, blackened, peeled, and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup prunes, pitted
cup green olives, pitted
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup white wine
3 cups chicken broth or stock
- salt and pepper to taste
1 The day before roasting the turkey, remove and reserve the giblets and wash the turkey well with cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels and tuck the wings under the body to keep them from burning. Season the inside and outside of the bird with salt and pepper. Mix the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and soy sauce together in a bowl, and spread the mixture liberally all over the outside and inside of the turkey. Refrigerate uncovered overnight. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about 45 minutes before you put it in the oven to let it come to room temperature.
2 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set the turkey, breast side down, on a rack in a roasting pan. If you don't have a V-shaped rack, you may have to tuck balls of scrunched up aluminum foil around the body to keep it upright. Place the roasting pan in the lowest rack of the oven and roast the turkey for about 1 hour.
3 Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Carefully turn the turkey over so it is breast side up. Add the giblets (excluding the liver), tomatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, prunes, olives, capers, garlic and the wine or water to the roasting pan around the turkey. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 1 to 2 hours, basting the turkey periodically with any juices that form in the pan. The turkey is done when the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh measures between 165 and 175 degrees (use a meat thermometer). If the breast begins to brown too much, cover it loosely with foil.
4 Remove the turkey to a cutting board or baking sheet. Tent with foil and let it rest while you finish the sauce.
5 Sauce: Remove any excess fat from the roasting pan. Add the turkey giblets (except for the liver; save this for another use) and the ingredients and juices from the roasting pan to a blender or food processor and pure. Add the pure to a large saucepan along with the 3 cups of water or stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until lightly thickened. Strain through a sieve, discarding any solids. Return the strained sauce to the saucepan, reheat and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
6 Once the turkey has cooled somewhat, slice and serve with the warm sauce.
PAVO SALAVADOREO VARIATIONS
Relajo Spice Mixture
Many Salvadoran cooks add a mixture of spices, peppers and seeds called a relajo to their sauce. Not only does it add authentic Salvadoran flavor, but the peanuts and pumpkin and sesame seeds help thicken the sauce as well. If you use a relajo, you can omit the giblets from the sauce.
/ cup sesame seeds
cup unsalted peanuts
cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 chili guajillor or pasilla or other fairly mild dried chili, destemmed and deseeded
5 bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons dried thyme, or 1 sprig fresh Add the spice mixture when you add the vegetables to the roasting pan. Pure and strain the sauce as directed above.
SPICED TURKEY FROM THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST
Source: Adapted from Mark Miller's recipe in The Barbeque Bible by Steven Raichlen Serves 10-12
1 turkey, 10 to 12 pounds
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
1 cup water
1 bunch fresh marjoram or
1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon ground annatto
2 cups fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 cloves garlic minced
teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil for brushing
1 Remove and discard the fat from inside the body cavity of the turkey. Remove giblets. Rinse the turkey, inside and out, then drain and blot dry. Season inside and out with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate.
2 Combine the ancho chilies and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, until the chilies have softened and all liquid has been absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chilies and to a blender and add the annatto. marjoram, orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and teaspoon pepper. Process until smooth.
3 Loosen the turkey skin and spoon marinade liberally under it. Brush the outside of the turkey and cavity with more marinade. Place the turkey in a roasting pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for four hours.
4 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the turkey breast-side down on a V-shaped rack in a roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour.
5 Lower the oven heat to 325, turn the turkey breast side up, and continue to roast for another 1 to 2 hours, or until the bird is nicely browned, the legs move freely, the juices of the thigh run clear, and a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees.
MEXICAN DRUNKEN TURKEY WITH DRESSING
Source: Adapted from Mexico in Small Bytes (mexicoinsmallbytes.com) from the Mistongo restaurant in Ptzcuaro, Mexico.
1 turkey, about 16 pounds
3 ounces butter 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper 1 tablespoon salt
12 ounces dark beer
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 to 4 large onions, quartered
1 Mix the butter, pepper and salt and spread it on the turkey as well as pushing some under the skin.
2 Place the turkey in a large bag. Combine the beer, soy sauce, orange juice and Worcestershire sauce, pour over the turkey. Draw the bag around the turkey to keep as much of it submerged in the marinade as possible. Let it marinate overnight.
3 Before baking, preheat the oven to 365 degrees. Drain the turkey and fill the cavity with quartered onions. Place turkey in a rack in a roasting pan, cover with buttered aluminum foil, and cook at 365 degrees for three hours. Baste the bird occasionally during the cooking time. Take off the foil and continue cooking at the same temperature for another hour or less, basting occasionally. The turkey turns a luscious brown.
4 Let rest for at least 30 minutes, covered in a warm place, before carving. Serve with the dressing below.
DRESSING FOR MEXICAN DRUNKEN CHICKEN
1 pound chorizo
3 ounces butter
6 pounds apples, cut in small pieces
1 loaves of whole wheat bread, dried or toasted and broken into small pieces.
7 ounces chopped pecans
9 ounces chopped seedless prunes
6 cloves - a piece of stick cinnamon
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 In a wide skillet, cook the sausage until done through, breaking up, then drain fat. Add the butter and apples. Continue to cook over very low flame, stirring often.
2 When the apples are soft and cooked, add the bread, pecans, prunes, cloves, cinnamon and brown sugar. Stir well. The dressing can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
3 Bake in a buttered dish next to the turkey for 45 minutes or until hot and browned.
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