Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sort-of Salvadorean Turkey in the Dutch Oven

I was looking for a different, unique way to do a turkey this last Thanksgiving.  I’d done a lot of variations in the past, and some of them I’d done over and over.  I just wanted to try something new.

I have a really good friend across the street who introduced me to his family tradition, the Salvadorean Turkey. I was really intrigued, so I also looked out on the web.  It turns out that there are lots of different ways of doing it, but they all have some consistent similarities, too.  They all involve some kind of mustard sauce, and some kind of tomato sauce.  Many of them are like a braise in the overall mixed sauce, others make the mustard in a baste, then have the tomato in a braise.  A version I was kind of attracted to had the mustard sauce basted and browned on the skin, and the tomatoes and fresh chopped veggies around the bird.  After the turkey is done, the veggies are pureed and served in lieu of gravy.

That was the version I did!

A note on authenticity:  Whenever there’s a dish that’s this traditional with this many variations, you’re sure to upset someone when you do it.  I don’t know that what I ended up doing is a “Real Salvadorean Turkey”, and someone’s Salvadorean grandmother will surely be upset by it.  Oh, well.  It tasted GREAT, and I thank the Salvadoreans for their recipes, or at least their inspiration!

Another note: Apparently, a large part of the tradition is making sandwiches using the leftover turkey and sauce in the days that follow the celebration.  Sounds like a great plan to me!

Dutch Oven Salvadorean Turkey Dinner

14” Deep Dutch oven
16 coals below
16 coals above

1 12-14 lb Turkey hen, thawed

1 lb brown sugar
1 lb table salt

1/2 cup mustard
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup honey
a bit of thickener, like guar gum, or just flour

3-4 large Potatoes
6-8 Roma Tomatoes
1-2 Green Peppers
2-3 stalks of celery
1-2 Medium Onions
4-5 cloves Garlic, sliced
1 cup coarsely chopped Green olives

Roasted Pumpkin seeds or unflavored sunflower seeds in the husk
liberal shakes of parsley, basil, oregano
A little chili powder
Salt and Pepper

The dish begins the day before the cooking.  The turkey had already been thawing for a day or two in the refrigerator.  That allowed it to thaw some, but there was still a lot of ice inside.

I prepared a brine bath by cleaning out a large drink cooler.  A flat food cooler that you take camping will also work, as long as it’s watertight.  I scrubbed it out with dish soap and rinsed it in hot, hot water.  Then I put about a half gallon of hot water in the bottom and mixed in the salt and sugar.  That’s a lot of each one, I know.  When that was mostly dissolved, I added enough cool water to bring it up to about half way full.  I opened up the turkey package, and let it drain a bit, and then use a fork or knife to poke some holes in the skin all around.  Then I put the whole bird into the brine bath.  I added more water until the turkey was covered.  I closed up the lid, nice and tight.

Now, usually, I’m doing this at Thanksgiving or Christmas, so it’s going to be really cool out in the garage.  The bird is also usually still thawing, so it’s going to keep the water really cool, too.  So, between the cool and salt, I don’t worry too much about germs.  Sometimes, however, just to be sure, I’ll add some ice on top.  It won’t really impact the thawing, but it will help keep it cold enough to retard the germ growth, and keep it out of the danger zone (above 40 degrees fahrenheit).

The next day, cooking day, Thanksgiving Day, I got my 14” dutch oven ready.  I don’t use it as often, so I gave it a good wiping, and then coated it with a quick spray of oil.  Not much.  I lit up some coals and let them start to get white.  I pulled the turkey out of the drink cooler, drained off the brine, and put it into the dutch oven, breast up. I got out some paper towels and patted the skin surface dry.  There’s still a lot of moisture in the meat, and that will end up in the braising sauces.

Once the coals were getting hot, I put the Dutch oven onto the coals, as written above, letting it start to roast.  I also inserted a meat thermometer.  Also, make sure that you have extra coals burning in a stack or in your chimney, so that you can start fresh ones.  This will be a long, slow cook.

I mixed up the baste ingredients.  It’s pretty simple, and you can adjust it to your taste.  I wanted it to be a thick glaze, almost a paste.  Once it was mixed, I opened up the Dutch oven and slathered it over all of the top and side surfaces of the turkey.  I only used about a third of the mix at the time.  The rest I reserved for future bastes.

Then, I let it cook for about an hour.  I kept refreshing the coals, trying to keep it at a steady medium to medium-low heat.

After about an hour and a half (almost half-way through the total cook time), I started preparing the veggies, dicing and chopping as needed.  The potatoes, I skinned and cubed.  These went in first, around the base of the turkey.  The other vegetables got scattered around the sides.  More baste went on top of the turkey.

During the last half of the cooking, I rebasted the turkey about every half hour to 45 minutes.  It started to form a really great crust.  In the last half hour or so, I put my 8” Dutch oven on about 10-12 coals, and tossed in the pumpkin or sunflower seeds, with a little olive oil).  I put the lid on, and let them roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  I like to get them quite brown, even a bit black, to get some smoky flavor!

When the turkey is done (at least 170 degrees, preferably 180), there is still much to do!

I brought the Dutch oven in from the coals, and using meat forks, lifted it out onto a plate.  I tented it with aluminum foil so as to preserve the heat and let it rest before carving and serving.

The next part is a bit tricky.  I scooped out the veggies and potatoes with a slotted spoon, letting them drain as I lifted them out.  I separated the potatoes from the veggies as best I could.  If there are some bits of veggie mixed in with the potatoes, and vice versa, that’s fine.  The potatoes I put into a collander to drain.

The veggies went into a blender with the herbs and other seasonings.  I tossed in some of the roasted seeds, just a few to start, and gave it a spin.  As I was pureeing the veggies into a sauce, I adjusted the thickness by adding more roasted seeds.  If you’re careful, it’s pretty easy to do.  If you go too far with the thickness, you can add more turkey juice from the bottom of the dutch oven.  Come to think of it, a little milk or half-and-half would really make it taste rich.  But that might cool it too much...

The potatoes then went into a bowl for mashing.  I added some salt and pepper to pick it up a bit. Again, if they’re too dry, you can add some of the turkey juice to make it a bit more fluid.

Finally, I carved the turkey and served it up!  The idea is that the diner will have a slice of turkey, with some potatoes on the side, with the tomato and veggie sauce drizzled over it.  It’s a delicious and flavorful combination, and since the bird, the potatoes and the veggies were all cooked together, there is a nice consistent sharing of flavors between all three!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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