Thanksgiving is complicated. Is my brother coming? He changed his mind no less than three times. Where are my fiance’s parents going to say? I’m already sleeping on the floor, because my parents have run out of beds. And will we have enough vegetable sides? Desserts tend to be the side dish of choice for most people as of the last few years. Thankfully there is one thing that is never complicated in our house. Despite the myriad of options that are now available, our turkey is always prepared the same way. I like to call it the Puerto Rican way, mostly because in all of my Turkey Day research I have not found a recipe out there that suggests this method of preparing a turkey and it was my Abuela’s recipe.

This turkey preparation is not for the faint of heart. The mixture I am about to propose to you will cause your hands to revile vampires for a solid week and you and the turkey will get closer than that TSA screener patting down a poor old lady. But the flavor will be incredible.

A day before your big meal make sure your turkey is completely thawed. It takes three to four days at least for a 20 pound turkey to thaw in the refrigerator, so be sure to pick up that bird early and give it enough time to thaw out. If it isn’t fully thawed on Wednesday, run it under cold water. Leaving the turkey out at room temperature or running it under hot water will breed all sorts of bacteria that won’t make for a very happy Thanksgiving. When everything is thawed and you’re staring at this giant bird, pull out the insides that are normally packaged up. This is when you’ll really find out if the bird is thawed, because if it is still slightly frozen the insides won’t come out easily. When all of that is done, prepare the turkey mixture.

Turkey Mixture:

  • 1 jar of minced garlic
  • Cumin
  • Adobo
  • Olive Oil

“If you need a recipe, you don’t know how to cook,” was my Abuela’s favorite saying. Of course, because of this it has taken my mom years of consulting my aunts and testing formulas to create the turkey mixture my Abuela made. And in the process of this epic endeavor my mom has found that “if you need a recipe, you don’t know how to cook.” As much as I would love to give you an exact ratio of adobo to cumin to garlic to olive oil, it simply does not exist. You will need a full jar of the garlic, add a tablespoon of the cumin and a tablespoon of the adobo, and add enough olive oil to form a paste. If it looks like it needs more adobo or cumin, feel free to add more. This is going to be a potent pastey mixture, so don’t try to “water it down” by adding more olive oil. You want it to be strong.

In order for the paste to really seep into the turkey, you have to slit the skin around the turkey. Make little slits with a knife all over the bird. Take the paste and rub it all over the bird, being sure to push it under the skin wherever you cut the skin. Then stick your hand into the bird and rub the paste all upside inside it. Once you’re done, place the bird in a roasting pan, cover it, and stick it in the refrigerator.

According to a 10-18 pound turkey should take anywhere from three to three and a half hours to roast. Whole Foods chart claims a 16-20 pound bird should take four to five hours. Your bird is going to take its good old time and the only way you will know when he or she is officially ready to be eaten is by checking the temperature. If you have a fancy turkey timer that can stay in the oven, you will be the most prepared and your turkey won’t overcook.

On Thanksgiving morning, take the bird out of the oven. Pour about a cup of water in the pan. Tent the roasting pan with aluminum foil. Your best bet is to buy the largest package of aluminum foil you can find, because you are not going to want to skimp on aluminum foil. Place the lid on the top of the aluminum foil and place the bird in the oven at 325-degrees.

If you are planning on a Thanksgiving lunch, placing the turkey in the oven is probably going to happen in the wee hours of the morning. My fondest memories of Thanksgiving always involve waking up to the smell of turkey. The one year my mom did not account for the turkey cooking longer than she expected dinner was late, she was flustered, and it was an all around awful time. So know turkeys are finicky creatures and should always be given extra time. Also remember that the bird needs to rest for 30 minutes to an hour before you can carve it, so plan your cooking time with that in mind.

The job of the turkey master is not done when the turkey gets shoved in the oven. Every hour you need to baste the turkey. Buy a turkey baster and understand that every year you will look for your turkey baster will have disappeared, so you will need to buy another one. If you do not have an in-the-oven thermometer, also check the temperature once you start hitting the two and three hour mark. Don’t trust the little popper built into most turkeys. When you have roughly an hour left, remove the aluminum foil and leave the lid of the roasting pan. This will give the turkey a chance to crisp up. When the turkey hits 165 F and is smelling like heaven, remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest. Pulling a tiny piece of meat, especially if you were the one basting and loving the turkey all morning, is perfectly acceptable at this point in the process.

In order to keep yourself from consuming the whole turkey while it’s supposed to be resting, you should make gravy. Because the turkey was covered in garlic and cumin and adobo, the drippings are so full of flavor no canned or bagged gravy could compare. Ladle out some turkey broth. Add a little more adobo. In a frying pan make a roux out of a couple tablespoons of butter and maybe 1/4 cup of flour. Let it toast a little to add to the flavors in the broth. Add the roux to the broth and allow it to thicken. Strain the gravy through a china cap to remove any lumps left from the roux. Taste to make sure it has enough flavor and serve next to the turkey, which hopefully someone else has taken over the job of carving by now and is beautifully arranged on a platter.

In a world where bags and expensive fryers and smokers have made the turkey a complicated and at times costly affair, it’s nice to go back to good flavors and deliciously prepared food. Even if my brother decides to change his mind one more time, and my fiance’s parents really do need one of the nonexistent beds in my parents house, and we have all dessert and no vegetables, I know that Thanksgiving morning I will be waking up to the most heavenly of smells and the turkey will not be smoked or fried and it will be perfect, like it always is.

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