We all have our Thanksgiving favorites. The dishes we never (okay, hardly ever) eat except on that warm, glowing evening in late November. Maybe its green bean casserole, maybe cranberries from a can, who knows, nostalgia can be found in a lot of unsuspecting places.
For me it’s mashed potatoes made with starchy Yukon golds, buttermilk, white pepper, and salt and pumpkin pie with loads of freshly whipped cream. These things are not worth messing with.
But then there are others that could use a little update, a little make-over, maybe some spice. I think the patron saint of Thanksgiving could use a visit to the warm beaches of Cancún. Who wouldn’t rather be lounging in the sand right about now?
So next week when you are staring at that beast in your refrigerator the size of a small toddler just think how good it would taste if it had taken a nice long bath in a the deep red achiote paste of the Yucatán. I can guarantee you no one will complain about the turkey having too much flavor.
We’ve discussed achiote paste here before. It is a dark red spice mixture made from annatto seeds, garlic, and spices and is used mainly in the Yucatán region of Mexico and is the best friend your turkey will ever have. You can find it at your neighborhood Mexican market or online. It is not spicy. You can serve it to your grandma.
There are two details to keep in mind however. The turkey will need a good 2 days in the marinade, uncovered in the refrigerator, for the achiote to do it’s magic, so plan accordingly. The second is that the sugar in the marinade will burn at high temperatures, so you’ll have to cook the turkey low and slow, maybe even covering the wing tips, leg bones, and breast with foil to prevent it from burning. You can always turn the heat down in the oven to, even to as low as 225°F, if needed, it just will take longer until it is cooked all the way through—don’t forget your meat thermometer!
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup achiote paste
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- Fresh-squeezed juice of 1 orange
- 1 whole, fresh 12 pound turkey or thawed if frozen
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 orange, quartered
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
- Combine salt, achiote paste, brown sugar, and orange juice in a blender. Puree until smooth.
- Rinse turkey and remove the neck and giblets if necessary and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place turkey in a roasting pan and pour achiote marinade all over the turkey, rubbing it into the skin on all sides. Let sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 48 hours.
- Two hours before you plan to roast the turkey, remove from the refrigerator. Pour any liquid into a bowl for basting, wash the roasting pan and place turkey on a rack inside the clean roasting pan.
- Rub the olive oil over the turkey and stuff with the orange, onion, and garlic, if it won't all fit inside the turkey you can place it around the turkey in the roasting pan. Let turkey come to room temperature.
- Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack on the bottom. Roast turkey for 15 minutes for every pound, so if you are dealing with a 12 pound turkey this should take you about 3 hours. Baste the turkey with the juices you saved, every 15 minutes or so. If the wing tips, legs, or breast are getting too dark, cover with aluminum foil.
- Start taking the temperature of the turkey about an hour before it's supposed to be done. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh and breast. The thigh should read 165°F and breast 160°F when it is done.
- Transfer turkey to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest about 15-30 minutes before carving.