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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.


An International Student Thanksgiving!

24 Nov

Many of you know that in my other life I am a full time instructor of English as a Second Language at a community college. My students come from all over the world representing numerous languages, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions.

Chicha, Peru. This is a beverage made of purple corn and seasoned with cinnamon. A revelation in holiday beverages (no alcohol, but certainly has the potential to make a delightful cocktail!)

Since it is an intensive immersion program, we spend a lot of time together in the course of a semester. Twenty hours a week for fifteen weeks, in fact.

Fish cutlets, India. Dense, yet creamy croquettes with a flavor that is not too fishy, but robust.

So it is wonderful to be able to share that most American and most inclusive of holidays — Thanksgiving — with all of them.

Foreground: Griot, Haiti. Pork shoulder deliciousness, with savory vegetables like onion and peppers and a spicy sauce. Center: Indian fish cutlets. Back: empanadas.

It reminds me of just what a true celebration of America, its achievements, and its possibilities, Thanksgiving is.

Pupusas, El Salvador (sort of a thick, soft tortilla or arepa, stuffed with cheese, sometimes beans or meat, and topped with a Salvadoran cabbage slaw)

So after a major in-class essay-writing assignment (which I still have to grade before Monday. Yikes!), we unwrapped our potluck offerings, did a little heating up in the office microwave, (one student even plugged in her slow cooker!), and tucked in.

Top: empanadas (I am not sure where these are from actually: Perhaps one of the student who reads the blog can tell me so I can fix this?), popular all over Latin America, they are meat, cheese, or pizza stuffed pastries, and bottom, sugared peanuts from Angola.

We should’ve brought hammocks too; after this incredible feast, we had the classic Thanksgiving hangover: food coma and barely dragged ourselves through the History Channel Thanksgiving lesson.

Oven-roasted chicken, El Salvador. This was falling off the bone, juicy and delicious!

So today I am showing you some images of the feast – not the students, because I didn’t ask their permission to put their pictures on-line!

My plate!

Thanks to my wonderful, hard-working, inspiring, and fun students for this feast, especially the ones who cooked!




I will NOT screw up the gravy this year; luscious turkey stock in progress

22 Nov

Regular readers will know that I disgraced myself last Thanksgiving by ruining the stock for the gravy; I put the liver in and rendered the stock (and the air in my kitchen) utterly disgusting. My mom triumphantly saved the day with a jar of gravy and I was mortified on many levels.

Leandro shows off as he pounds the turkey spice rub

That is not going to happen this year, thus this real time post to give you my stock recipe and let you know things are progressing fine! Continue reading

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