There's a little turkey at Eight Mile Creek Farm in upstate New York who will soon sacrifice her life for our Thanksgiving meal. We've named her Patita, after our good friend Pati Jinich, a brilliant and effervescent Mexican cook, television show host, and cookbook author. It's Pati's recipe for Mexican Turkey that we will use to honor the life of the bird who will grace our table as we give deep thanks for everything we have and everything we're able to share with our friends this year.
This recipe leaves the turkey with wonderful depth, without being overly complicated. By roasting the bird on top of a layer of onions and tomatoes, the meat takes on a ton of flavor, and what remains transforms into a rich, Mexican-influenced gravy. It's main flavor comes from the achiote paste, which you can now buy ready to use online or at the Latin aisle of many grocery stores. Achiote paste has the color of red bricks, and a taste similar to saffron, but with happier notes, is diluted in mixed grapefruit, orange and lime juices to make the marinade. Then the turkey gets to sit on top of chopped red onions and tomatoes and gets all swaddled in banana leaves.
Pati says this whole process replicates the ancient method of cooking the bird in an underground pit. "It comes out infused in the fragrance and jungle like taste of the banana leaves, succulent like you can't imagine, as there is no space for the heat to escape."
May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and may your table be filled with the spirit of gratitude.
Mexican Thanksgiving Turkey
From Pati's Mexican Table by Pati Jinich
Serves 10 to 12
For the marinade:
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 tablespoons seasoned achiote paste, from a bar (preferably not from a jar)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 cups bitter orange juice or a mixture of 1 cup each freshly squeezed orange juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
For the turkey and gravy
16- to 18-pound turkey, patted dry
A heavy-duty plastic bag large enough to hold the turkey
Unsalted butter for the baking dish
4 red onions, sliced
8 ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds), coarsely chopped, or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
2-3 banana leaves (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Place the garlic on a baking sheet or in a broiler-proof skillet. Broil, turning halfway through, until the papery skin of the garlic is burned and the cloves soften, about 6 to 9 minutes. Peel. In a blender or food processor, working in two batches, combine the garlic with the achiote paste, chicken broth, bitter orange juice, oregano, cumin, allspice, salt, and pepper and puree until smooth.
Slide the turkey, breast side down, into a heavy-duty plastic bag large enough to hold the turkey. Pour the marinade into the bag and massage it into the bird, working it into the cavity and all the crevices. Place the bag in a roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 48 hours, turning the bird a couple of times to redistribute the marinade.
Set an oven rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter a baking dish.
Spread the onions and tomatoes in a large roasting pan. Set the turkey, breast side up, on top of the vegetables in the pan (reserve the marinade). (Optional: stuff the main cavity with as much stuffing as it can hold. Place the rest of the stuffing in the baking dish; cover and refrigerate.) Close the cavity by crossing the legs and tying with butcher’s twine. Tuck the wing tips under the turkey. Pour the remaining marinade over the turkey.
Roast the turkey for 30 minutes.
Cover the turkey with the banana leaves, if using. Cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil, sealing it as best as you can. The less steam that escapes, the better. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, place the turkey back in the oven, and roast for 3 1/2 hours (or for at least 12 minutes per pound).
Remove the turkey from the oven and carefully remove the foil and leaves, being careful, as the steam is hot. Baste the turkey generously. Raise the temperature to 400°F and return the turkey to the oven and roast for 15 minutes more. The meat should be completely cooked through and nearly falling off the bone. Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest, loosely covered with aluminum foil, while you make the gravy. Leave the oven on.
Meanwhile, strain the cooking juices into a medium saucepan, pressing on the solids with the back of the spoon to get as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Set aside 1 cup of the liquid for the reserved stuffing. You will make gravy with the rest. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour on top, mixing well with a wooden spoon, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, letting it gently bubble, until the roux is golden brown. Add the rest of the liquid and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is a brick color and has thickened to the consistency of light cream.
While the sauce thickens, pour the reserved 1 cup liquid over the stuffing in the baking dish and bake for 20 minutes, or until it is hot throughout and the top is crisped.