Pavo pibil: Yucatán-style roast turkey is full of flavor

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Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Writer and educator Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado co-founded the TTT school and raised two children after moving to Mérida in 1976. The British Columbia native, author of "Magic Made in Mexico," blogs at Changes In Our Lives.
Pavo pibil is full of flavor. Photo: Carlos van der Gracht de Rosado

Roast turkey in Yucatán — pavo pibil — is full with flavor because it’s filled with citrus and onion, smothered with achiote sauce and wrapped with banana leaves.

But plan ahead. You need to start your preparation one day before serving the turkey. This recipe works best if you have a 14-16 lb. bird.

Remove giblets and neck (usually packed inside the turkey cavity). Also, remove any bits of innards still stuck in there. Rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Set the bird in a large container (cavity side facing down). Set to one side.

Next, make the pibil-style marinade

For the marinade:
• 1 cup of sour orange juice (If you can’t get sour orange, substitute 1/2 cup orange juice combined with 1/2 cup lime juice)
• 1 3-ounce package achiote paste
• 2 tsp oregano (coarsely ground)
• 1 tsp cumin (ground)
• 4 cloves (whole)
• 1 tsp black peppercorns (coarsely ground)
• 1 tsp cinnamon (ground)
• 10 garlic cloves (whole)
• 1/2 white onion (chopped)
• 2 tsp salt

Put all the marinade ingredients into the blender bowl, and process until absolutely smooth. It should have a ruby-red color, a flavorful, but not piquant taste.

Strain the sauce to ensure it’s perfectly smooth and set aside.

Turn the turkey over, shake out any remaining fluid and pat dry again. Put the turkey back in the large bowl (cavity side up) and drench it with the marinade, inside and out. Cover loosely with a cloth and leave it, overnight, in the fridge. Note: The turkey will absorb the flavor of the marinade better if you baste it a couple of times.

The next day

For roasting the turkey:
• 1 stick butter
• 3 oranges, quartered
• 3 limes, quartered
• 8 garlic cloves (whole)
• 1 white onion (cut into 12 pieces)

Remove the turkey from the fridge. Let it remain at room temperature for 1 hour, then baste it one final time. Fill the cavity with orange wedges, lime wedges, onion and garlic pieces. Put it (cavity side up) into the preheated oven. For extra-juicy meat and crispy skin, insert pats of butter in between the skin and flesh of the bird

Note: Traditionally, this recipe calls for wrapping the bird in banana leaves, which are easy to find in Yucatán, but not everywhere else. Don’t worry if you don’t have access to them, you can cover the bird with parchment paper. Your turkey will have plenty of flavor either way.

The oven temperature should be 325 F / 160 C. Roast the turkey until the internal temperature is 180 degrees F.

Cooking times
• 8 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3 1/2 hours
• 12 to 14 pounds: 3 1/2 to 4 hours
• 14 to 18 pounds: 4 to 4 1/4 hours
• 18 to 20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
• 20 to 24 pounds: 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

When the turkey is fully cooked, take it out of the oven. Remove all the cooked vegetables from the turkey cavity and discard them.

While the turkey is roasting, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare the accompanying side dishes, starting with the vegetable platter.

Vegetables Platter
4 boiled potatoes, 2 boiled beets, 2 boiled carrots (cut in thick wedges)
3 raw Roma tomatoes, 1 small cucumber, 1 avocado (cut in thick slices)
Arrange one head of Romaine lettuce leaves around the perimeter of the serving platter. Distribute the cooked and raw vegetables on top. Sprinkle the filled platter with a small amount of vinaigrette. Set the cooked turkey down in the middle of the platter. Surrounded by the colorful vegetables, the bird will look very appetizing.
The other suggested side dishes are all easy to prepare:

Pasta with Salsa Verde
Unlike most pasta dishes, this can be prepped well ahead of time. Cook one pound of spaghetti until it is al dente. Toss it with one cup of canned or bottled salsa verde. Just before you take all the dishes to the serving table, reheat the pasta in the microwave for one minute, and fold in one cup of fresh cream. Garnish with radish slices.

Refried Black Beans
Saute ½ white onion in a skillet with a small amount of oil. When the onions are translucent, add 1 can of black beans (refritos), diluted with ½ can of water. Stir well and allow the mixture to reduce down to the desired consistency.

Pan de Elote (Corn Bread)
You can purchase this at any traditional Yucatecan bakery. Pre-order it if you don’t usually see it on the shelves.

Pickled Onions
This garnish is indispensable. You can buy a jar or make it yourself. One red and one white onion, cut in halves, then into wide slices. Boil them until tender in: One cup of white vinegar, 3/4 cup of water, 1 tsp salt, 2 T sugar, ½ tsp black pepper. 2 laurel leaves, 2 whole cloves, 1 T crushed oregano. When cooked, remove the laurel leaves and any other large bits of herbs. Put the hot onions into a bowl with enough liquid to fully cover them. Put a 2-inch by 2-inch piece of raw beet in with the onions to turn them a pinkish color.

¡Buen provecho!

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