About that gravy. (Roast turkey and gravy, pavochón-style)

25 Nov

Let’s start by saying that I did NOT screw up the gravy this year. (Click here for last year’s debacle). In fact, it was smooth, fragrant and delicious.

Brining the turkey requires just a bucket, a trash bag, salt and water. The difference it makes is amazing!

However, (you knew this was coming) it was also too damn salty.  But… Pedro’s turkey, duly brined and seasoned Puerto Rican-style, was juicy, tasty and all around wonderful. And I have worked out why and the gravy recipe (which may very well be repeated at Christmas, and certainly next Thanksgiving) has been modified accordingly.

Leandro mashed up the adobo

So what happened with the gravy?

Pedro really gets in there with the adobo

Two things. Usually to make the turkey stock I add my own home-made chicken stock which has little or no salt additional to whatever salt the carcass I used brought with it, or I buy low-sodium stock to simmer in conjunction with the turkey necks. This time, I used store-bought chicken stock with all the salt, thereby adding salt where none was needed.

Trussed and oven-ready

Two, the pavochón-style spice rub (adobo) that is actually a recipe for roast pork/roast suckling pig modified for turkey is saltier than what we usually prepare (and Pedro cut the amount recommended in the classic Cocina Criolla by Carmen Aboy de Valldejuli in half!).

And…a beautiful pavochón!

The turkey was perfectly salted, but the pan juices that I relied on for the gravy were much saltier than I anticipated. So, live and learn.

Pan juices on the stove for deglazing

The solution? The next time we make this particular adobo, I will make sure that I have my own no-salt stock laid by for the gravy.

Smooth, baby. Smooth.

And this time, at least, my mom didn’t have to bust out the jar of gravy. I think this time she didn’t even buy one. I appreciate the vote of confidence.

The Surgeon at Work

Roast Turkey, Latin-style (Pavochón)

Overnight, brine a 10-12 lb turkey, quills removed and neck and giblets (excluding liver!) reserved for making stock. (8 quarts water, 2 Cups kosher salt in a bucket lined with a trash bag. Keep chilled overnight)

In a large mortar and pestle, mash:

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

20-25 peppercorns


1.5 Tbs oregano (dry)

1Tbs oregano (fresh or just add another half Tbs dry)

6 tsp coarse kosher salt (1/2 tsp per pound)

4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Additional ingredients for the turkey cavity:

1 stalk celery, snapped in half

1 carrot, peeled, and sliced in half

1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks

1 bay leaf

Additional ingredients for the gravy:

1 navel orange, peel on, chopped into chunks

1 red onion, peeled, chopped into rough chunks

1 Tbs butter, softened

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

4 Cups turkey stock (as low in salt as possible)

1/3 Cup all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Use the ingredients in the mortar and pestle to season the inside and outside of the bird and under the skin. Leave some of the spice paste in the mortar and pestle and add additional oil; you will be using this for basting.

Stuff the turkey with the ingredients for the cavity. Tie the drumsticks together and pin the wings to the body with small skewers.

Put the turkey on a rack set in a large flameproof roasting pan and roast in the center of the oven for 30 minutes.

While turkey is roasting, toss the orange chunks and onion in the butter and oil listed under gravy ingredients.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Brush more spice paste (adding oil if necessary) all over the bird. Put the orange chunks and onion underneath the rack (this will season the pan juices which you will need for the gravy) and return the turkey to the oven, basting every thirty minutes until an instant read thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of the thigh reads 170°F.

Important note: We also had a pop-up thermometer in the breast, which popped up waaaaay before the thighs were cooked (a typical problem and the reason why the breast on roasted whole turkey is often dry and overcooked. We simply turned the turkey over onto the breast and kept roasting, sacrificing crispy skin for juicy breast. You decide what you want – we may actually cook the bird in pieces next year – but having two different thermometers for the two major zones of the bird was very helpful).

When the bird is done (total roasting time is 1.5-2 hours), remove and discard the vegetables in the cavity and let the bird rest on a platter for an hour before slicing.

Gravy (do this right away so the liquids are still hot)

Transfer the pan juices (with oranges and onions) to a 2-quart glass measure, then skim off and reserve ¼ Cup fat.

Add enough turkey stock to bring the pan juice level to 4.5 Cups.

Set roasting pan across two burners, add one cup of the pan juice mixture and deglaze pan over moderately high heat, scraping off any brown bits. Add the rest of the pan juice mixture and bring to a simmer. Strain through a fine sieve back into your 2-quart glass container and discard the onions and oranges.

In a heavy saucepan, whisk the reserved fat and flour together and cook at medium low, whisking, for about 3 minutes. Then add hot pan juice mixture in a fast stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then simmer, whisking occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until thickened. Salt to taste (but we didn’t need ANY additional salt. We needed LESS salt!)

Serve turkey with gravy on the side.


10 Responses to “About that gravy. (Roast turkey and gravy, pavochón-style)”

  1. Mad Dog November 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    That sounds amazing – I’ll have to try the adobo rub myself 🙂

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy November 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

      Oh, you’ll like it, I think. It’s big flavor without being overwhelming…works on pork VERY well.

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy November 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      Where is your comment button? Just saw your incredible meal — OMG lardo…it’s been years…not sure if I’ve ever had it crisped, but it certainly makes sense! But I couldn’t comment…let me know! Beautiful!!!!!

      • Mad Dog November 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

        Thanks! No idea about the comment button, maybe a glitch with WP tweaking things again…

  2. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide November 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Everything looks fantastic!

  3. Ross Ramsey November 25, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    The picture of the turkey in the trash bag is great!! Looks like a turkey in a womb!!

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy November 25, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Oh that is very funny! I guess the trauma of getting that turkey on the table along with everything else is a sort of labor too!

  4. Conor Bofin November 25, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I am always suspicious when a post starts with a denial…
    The turkey looks wonderful. You can extract a lot of the salt by putting a few slices of uncooked potatoes in the gravy for a while (if you have the time). The potato slices take on some of the salt. Then you can throw them away. A little bit of honey or sugar can help too but, you need to be very careful with that. Anyway, this is advice from somebody who has not cooked a turkey in ten years. so feel free to ignore it entirely.

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy November 25, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      Yes, I am familiar with the potato option (and have used it) but in this case, unfortunately, the saltiness was not truly evident until the gravy has thickened sooo much I was hesitant to try it…probably will next time! Thanks for the tip!

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