How to Make a Traditional Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Day Dinner

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Even though Thanksgiving was not always a traditional holiday on the island, many Puerto Rican families calling the States home began celebrating it by adding a touch of Sabor Latino. A traditional Puerto Rican Thanksgiving menu will likely consist of Pavochon, Mofongo stuffing, Arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas), Tostones, and Tembleque or dulce de leche. I serve a green bean casserole with my meal and for an appetizer I fry up some Platanos versus the Tostones. I season mine with garlic, black pepper and salt and serve them with Mojo Criollo.

I’m usually cooking enough food to feed at least five Marines so I get a 12-15 lb turkey and call it a day. My mom always taught me to begin prepping my turkey the day before Thanksgiving so my seasonings have time to soak into that bird.

Two Days or One Day Before:

To thaw your bird slow you can stick it in the refrigerator two days before or for fast thawing submerge it in it’s wrapping (DO NOT take wrapping off) in your tub or a deep sink in cold water. Make sure the entire bird is submerged. The bigger the bird the longer it’ll take to thaw. A big turkey like the ones I cook usually take 2 days to thaw out in the refrigerator.

The Day Before:

Season your bird with Adobo, inside and out. Be generous. Your guests will appreciate it. No one wants a bland turkey. Gather your black pepper, garlic salt, oregano and paprika and rub them all over the bird. Poke holes in your bird with a fork so that the seasonings will soak into its skin. Set the bird back in the fridge.

THANKSGIVING MORNING:

I usually begin cooking my bird around 4 a.m., which only leaves me room to do other things like pull out my tree and decorations and set up other dishes. Begin by preparing your mofongo stuffing.

Mofongo Stuffing.

You’ll need:

6 large green plantanos,

1/3 C of chicken broth

4 tsp. chopped garlic

1 lb bacon chopped into small pieces and cooked. Throw away fat.

3 sweet chili peppers, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

Mix bacon, garlic, peppers, and olive oil. Mash the platanos and olive oil mixture in your pilon. Repeat until all ingredients are gone. Mix mofongo and broth and if mofongo isn’t moist enough, add more broth. Stuff the bird with the mofongo and cook. and follow instructions that came with your bird.

NOW FOR THE BIRD:

Heat your oven to 375º.

Rinse your turkey well. Rinse the inside once you remove the bag from the turkey’s cavity. Be sure to pull out the bag from your turkey BEFORE you begin cooking it!!! Muy Importante!

Put the bird in a deep and sturdy aluminum or tin foiled roaster. LINE it with aluminum foil first.

Place chunks of butter on top of and all around the turkey. Place an entire stick of butter inside of the turkey’s cavity. Be generous. You’ll have a juicy turkey in the end.

Now begin stuffing your turkey with the mofongo. If you’re a newbie cook, forget the mofongo and just whip out the Stove Top Stuffing and follow directions on the box. It’s okay. We’re all beginners at one time.

Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and put it in the oven.

TURKEY SIZE & COOKING TIME:

4 to 6 pound turkey = 3 to 3 ¾ hours.

6 to 8 pound turkey = 3 ¾ to 4 ½ hours.

8 to 12 pound turkey = 4 to 5 hours.

12 pound and beyond = 5½ to 6 hours.

Always be sure to read the side of the turkey wrapping for exact cooking time. Better to be safe than undercooked. Yuck! About 45 minutes before your bird is done, remove the foil on top and continue to cook uncovered until the bird is crispy on top.

12 Lb. turkey

Lots of Adobo

Paprika

2 tsp. of Black pepper

4 cloves of garlic (mash in a pilón)

2 tsp. of oregano (Leaf)

4 sticks of Butter

To begin preparing your Arroz con Gandules:

YOU’LL NEED:

2 packs of Sazón

3 cans of Gandules

6 cups of water

4 cups of rice

2 cups chopped bacon, cooked

2 cups of Sofrito

2 Tablespoon of Goya Olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large caldero or pot.

Drain and rinse the cans of Gandules

Sauté the sofrito and chopped ham for about a minute and a half

Add rice, water, gandules and Sazón

Once it begins to boil, let it continue for about 3 minutes

Cover the pot tight and reduce the heat to medium-low. Let it cook for 35 to 40 minutes.

***DO NOT use a lid with those vent holes and DO NOT lift the lid to check the rice!

When it’s done stir the rice once or twice before serving and serve HOT.

PREPARING YOUR GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE:

2 pound green beans, washed and trimmed

2 cloves garlic, cut in half

3 tablespoon chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoons olive oil

½ packet of Sazón and ham seasoning

1 tablespoon butter

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup boiling water

Slice green beans in halves. Heat oil and butter in a skillet. Add Sazón and ham seasoning then sauté both with onion and garlic until soft. Remove garlic then add green beans, salt, pepper, and boiling water. Cover and cook for 25 minutes over medium heat until tender. You can add a little more water, if needed.

MAKING FRIED PLATANOS (Amarillo’s):

I like to wait until my platanos are yellow with a few black spots. To me, they taste better…sweeter. No Puerto Rican dish (to me) is complete without rice, gandules, habichuelas and platanos! To begin preparing the platanos. Use 4 platanos to make enough to serve several people and get a bottle of mojo criolla for sauce.

Cut off about one inch from each end of the platano using a sharp knife.

Slice them down the middle then horizontal to fry them like chips except make them a little bit thicker.

Place the sliced pieces in very hot water and let soak a few minutes.

Take your knife and place it under the skin of the sliced piece and begin removing the skin. Kind of like you’re peeling the skin off of a potato. Sometimes I just use a potato peeler.

Drain them on a paper towel then sprinkle the slices with black pepper, a dash of salt or garlic then fry each slice in the mixture of olive & vegetable oil over medium heat until tender and golden brown. Turn them one time only.

And for the coupe de gras: DESSERT

We have Tembleque! This is a traditional Puerto Rican dessert for the holidays.

YOU’LL NEED:

4 cups coconut milk and ground cinnamon

½ cup of cornstarch and ½ tsp. salt

2/3 cup of sugar

A medium sauce pan, serving dish and square pan.

Dissolve cornstarch in a saucepan with 1/4 cup of the coconut milk. Once it’s dissolved add the rest of the coconut milk followed by the sugar, and salt. Cook at med-high heat and stir continuously!

As the mixture gets thick, lower heat until it boils. Immediately pour into your pan. Let it cool then cover and place in fridge for at least 2 hours. Carefully separate the tembleque from the mold using a knife. Turn it over unto a serving dish then sprinkle with the cinnamon. I serve this with café con leche or the men usually just want another beer.

VOILA! You have just made your first Puerto Rican Thanksgiving meal! Enjoy!

Now if you dare…go a step further and add Coquito to the menu. This is a Puerto Rican favorite mostly popular during Christmas and New Years. Nobody makes Coquito like my Abuela!

YOU’LL NEED:

40 ounces coconut milk

14 ounces evaporated (condensed) milk

1½ cup water

½ tsp. cinnamon

2 cup Bacardi rum

Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a blender. Taste and add more rum if you like it stronger. You need to add the water because it will get thick once you refrigerate it. Pour into a bottle and refrigerate well. Collect pint size bottles to pour Coquito in for guests to take home as a party favor.