Thanksgiving or Accion de Gracias at my family was a major event when we were kids. My dad’s family is pretty big so anything with them was big. We celebrated at my Abuela’s house for many years. We used to have turkeys from almost every household – about 10 to 15 turkeys. All turkeys were different seasonings and stuffing as well. The desserts table was a large one with sides and chips. The whole thing could have easily fed 150 people no problem.
My childhood years from late 80 to early 90s were phenomenal. Aunties had their big hairs, bright red lipstick, shoulder pads and heels in the middle of the small jungle we lived. Uncles had mustache and the Miami Vice look with their button up shirts’ top three buttons open showing chest and hair. Others like my dad, wore a guayabera with his starched and creased slacks that could stand by themselves. The crease alone could have been an event in itself.
Back then my family was very close physically and emotionally despite the size. I grew up next to 6 of my cousins. We could just walk up the hill, and quite a few more by driving a few miles. Eventually the family grew too big and spread out. Today, Thanksgiving is a smaller deal; celebrated at different houses in and out of Puerto Rico. This is all part of the effects of the new diaspora and divided families across US and PR. Imagine living in the states and have your neighbor throw a party with about 100 or so people. I bet your HOA will hear about it. I think when I get my fogón at home, I would love to throw that kind of party.
After Hurricane Maria…
This year, my parents don’t have power. The turkey will be cooked in the fogón a la varita, rotisserie style. The stuffing will be put after the turkey is cooked. All the food will be simple and modified to what’s available. It will be a small gathering, but the food will be as delicious as always. We were talking recently about what they are going to cook; the potato salad, the rice, desserts, maybe fried pork known as chicharrones, besides the menu below.
This year I had the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen with mom and recreate a bit of her Thanksgiving feast menu. We did her customary rice with onions and bacon, her delicious and very unique stuffing, and her roasted turkey with mushroom gravy (recipes below). We invited my sister-in-law and her family to share the meal. Even then, we had plenty of leftovers. That’s how we roll at home! Never cooking for just a few, even if we are just a few.
This year many Puerto Ricans at home and abroad will give thanks for the opportunity of a new life, for surviving a massive hurricane, and the debacle that has ensued. I personally give thanks for my family, all of them spread throughout the world, and share with you these recipes as a gift of Thanksgiving. I wish you all a great Thanksgiving!
What are you cooking for Thanksgiving this year? What’s your favorite dish for this holiday? Feel free to share your Thanksgiving’s stories with me.
Rice with Onions and Bacon
- Similar to the white rice recipe, but we are going to start with heating up the pot to medium heat and adding the oil. Note: This is the beef bouillon powder I use to cook, but the regular cube bouillons work the same way.
- Once the oil and pot are warmed, add the bacon, let it cook few minutes then add the onion, cook it till translucent and add the butter.
- Add the beef bouillon, stir around for 1-2 minutes, add the can of beef consomme, stir around for 1-2 minutes, add the rice and the water. Stir for few minutes until everything looks well mixed.
- Let the liquid dry until you don’t see it covering the rice anymore. Turn the heat to medium low and cover the pot. You will cook for 7 to 10 minutes, move the bottom of the rice to the top with a big spoon, cover again, cook for another 7 to 10 minutes and move the rice again. Repeat this cycle 2 to 4 times until the rice is cooked and soft. Note: I usually go with 7 minutes in the timer and it takes about 4 iterations. It will depend on the heat. If your stove is cooking too quickly and the rice feels hard during one of the iterations, you can add a bit of water so the rice cooks up.
- 15-20 lb turkey
- 2-3 gallons water for brining until turkey is covered
- 3-4 lemon cut in halves for brining
- 4-6 oranges cut in halves for brining
- 1 cup Himalayan Pink Salt for brining
- 1-2 head garlic peeled
- 1 envelop Coriander & Annatto Seasoning
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp all purpose adobo
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1-2 tbsp white vinegar
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 stick butter
- If a frozen turkey, take it out of the freezer 3 days before seasoning it. I divide the days as follow: first 24hrs in the fridge, second 24hrs for brining, and third 24hrs to season and marinate. If I don’t have the time, I place the frozen turkey inside the brine solution and usually is thawed out within the first 12 hrs.
- Once the turkey is out of the fridge, place the turkey in an ice chest, a bowl with a lid big enough for the turkey or a brine bag, if available. Fill it with water until the turkey is covered. If using the bag, place inside the sink to prevent spills.
- Prepare the oranges and lemons cutting them in halves and squeezing their juice into the recipient with the turkey. Add the salt and stir the water and turkey around. Brine for 24 hrs. Note: I use less salt than the brine solution ration recommendation to the water (4 tbsp to 1 quart of water), but I think 1 cup of salt is enough for me. The orange really helps with flavor and tenderness.
- Once the turkey has been in the brine bath for 24 hrs and is fully thawed, transfer the turkey to a large bowl for seasoning and pad the turkey dry.
- Peel the garlic heads and add to the mortar or blender. If you want to have a very fine garlic, you can use a blender to do this adobo because the large amount of garlic. If you have a big bird, you can use the 2 heads of garlic. If you are not a big fan of garlic, I recommend stick with 1 head and adjust the all purpose adobo to your taste.
- Add the all purpose adobo, the black pepper, and coriander and annatto seasoning to the pilón or blender along with the garlic. Crush or blend the ingredients until paste-like consistency.
- If you are using a blender, add the oil and vinegar to the blender before starting the mix. If you are using the pilón, wait till you have crushed the ingredients to a paste and add the oil and vinegar.
- Note: The all purpose adobo is mostly to taste. I start with 1 tbsp and taste the mix once done so if it feels bland or want more adobo, I add more then or directly to the turkey when I am seasoning it. I usually do 1 tbsp of adobo powder to 2 heads of garlic for my 20 lbs turkey. If you can’t find all purpose adobo around you, use salt or your preferred seasoned salt. Just make sure you know the flavor of the seasoned salt before mixing it with the garlic.
- Mix your ingredients well with the oil and vinegar and, using your hands or a brush, spread all over the turkey. The turkey breast area and the legs have the loose skin usually so spread the garlic mix between the breast and legs and between the skin and the meat until all the mix is covering the turkey inside and out. Note: Do not be afraid to get your hands between the skin and the meat of the turkey to season those areas, just do not tear the skin of the breast too much. It’s good to keep at least the tip of the breast and the skin still attached. If the skin tears too much, use cooking thread or toothpicks to keep the skin together and prevent exposing the turkey breast too much.
- Cover the large bowl with the turkey and place in the fridge to marinate for another day.
- On the day of cooking, take the turkey out so it warms up to room temperature.
- Cut the bacon in halves. Place the bacon slices around the turkey breast, the legs and any other area you can find the bacon slices. Then spread part of the butter all over the outside the turkey and most of the butter goes around the legs and the breast. If you are using Butterball turkey, you don’t need to add butter. Note: I sometimes use an injection from a Cajun Injector to do this. See bottom notes for link.
- Preheat the oven at 325F and place the turkey in a roasting pan with the chicken breast down. Cover the roasting pan with foil if it doesn’t have a lid.
- Depending on your turkey’s size, you will cook it for few hours. My turkey was around 20lbs so I cooked for about 5hrs until the meat thermometer marked 165F on the breast. You can use the Food Safety website’s turkey roasting chart. The link in the bottom notes.
- At around halfway mark of the cooking time, you can use a bulb baster to spread some of the liquid over the turkey. It will make the turkey juicier.
- An hour before finishing cooking, take the turkey out and carefully flip the breast up using large tongs. This is a two person job using hot gloves and large tongs. If you want to use a turkey baking bag, you don’t need to do this or just carefully break the turkey bag and flip the turkey.
- Once the turkey breast is up, stuff the turkey. I have stuffed the turkey before cooking and just leave the turkey breast down the entire cooking time, but it’s a matter of preference. You can stuff more inside it if the turkey breast is up. The breast down makes for a really juicy breast, which in turkey sometimes dries quickly.
- The turkey is done when the meat thermometer marks 165F, remove the turkey and let it cool off before carving. Keep the drippings / liquid at the bottom to prepare a mushroom gravy for the turkey.
- Add the butter or oil to a large skillet or a heavy bottomed pot at medium high heat.
- Add the chopped bacon and cook for about 4 minutes until browned. Add the onions and cook until translucent.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the sliced mushrooms. Cook until done.
- Add the cooking liquid or broth of your preference to the pot or pan. If using the gravy for the turkey, use the cooking liquid from the turkey. If using for chicken, use the chicken broth and cooking liquid. If using with beef, use beef broth or water with one beef bouillon.
- Add the corn starch to the cold water in a small cup.
- Slowly add the corn starch water to the mushrooms while stirring.
- Cook the gravy until desired consistency is achieved or add more corn starch to cold water to thicken up the gravy.
Mom’s Traditional Turkey Stuffing
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 bell peppers chopped
- 1 apple Honeycrips, chopped
- 4 slices white bread
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup pickled ham rinsed and chopped or ham steaks
- 3 slices bacon finely chopped
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup almonds crushed
- 1 egg boiled and chopped
- 1 yucca root large, peeled, grated
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 cup beef broth optional if dry
- 1 tsp all purpose adobo Goya All Purpose
- Prepare all the ingredients first as per notes above. The yucca root is hard to peel so be careful. Once peeled, you can use a grater or food grinder to grate the yucca root. I cut it in pieces first then use my KitchenAid mixer attachment to grind.
- Add bacon to large skillet, cook then remove and set aside. In a separate bowl, set the bread with the milk to soak for few minutes.
- Add the chopped pickled ham or ham steak to the skillet and cook for 1-2 minutes. Note: The pickled ham is rinsed because is saltier than the normal cooked ham I get in Puerto Rico.
- Add the onion and the peppers to the skillet and cook until onions are translucent. Season the ground beef with the adobo and add to the skillet. Cook the beef until most of the cooking liquid is gone. Note: If you prefer to cook the ground beef, drain the fat and then add to the skillet, I recommend adding few tablespoons of the beef broth so the skillet remains moist.
- Once the beef is cooked, add the chopped apples and cook for 1-2 mins. Repeat the process with the raisin, crushed almonds, bacon, boiled egg, and soaked bread.
- Once the above ingredients have been cooked for few minutes, add the grated yucca root and cook at medium to medium low until the yucca is cooked, which means it will change color to a yellowish hue. While the yucca is cooking cover the skillet and stir the content every 2-3 minutes until the yucca is fully cooked.
- Once everything is cooked, set aside and let it cool off before stuffing the turkey or your preferred bird. Note: You can do this stuffing a day prior of you needing it.
Turkey and Swiss Sandwich
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 white bolillo bread or 4-5 inches of pan sobao or french bread
- 1/2 cup turkey leftover, chopped
- 2 slice Swiss cheese
- 2 tbsp gravy see mushroom gravy recipe
- Gather the leftovers from Thanksgiving’s Main Event post (roasted turkey, gravy and, if adventurous throw some stuffing too or dressing).
- Chopped the leftover roasted turkey and the mushrooms from the leftover gravy. Warm the cold leftovers before placing on the bread.
- Slice the bread 3/4 of the way. It should look like a “V”. Spread butter over the bread, lay the turkey, the gravy, and then the cheese on one side of the bread. Note: You can add stuffing / dressing, regular or spicy mustard, chopped or sliced pickles, ham, or any other cold cut or leftover meat. I have tried it with roasted chicken, pork, chopped skirt steak, etc. This is based on the tripleta sandwich, but small scale when you add all these ingredients.
- Close the bread and toast on the skillet with a little bit of butter until the bread is toasted to your preference. Note: I like it just turning darker color. The butter for toasting really rounds up this sandwich. Do not microwave the bread to heat up the other ingredients if they are cold cause the bread will become chewy.