The first Spaniards to be introduced to the turkey in 1511, were the castaways of the caravel “Santa Lucía” during a voyage from St. Maria of Darien, a colony situated between Panama and Colombia, and the island of “La Española”, currently known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The commanders Guerrero and Aguilar were greeted on the island of Cozumel, and one of the first things they enjoyed was turkey meat, that which was already quite common on the island and in the whole south eastern peninsula of Yucatan. However, for historic reasons the first description of turkey only came around the year 1519 through the historian Bernal Díaz del Castillo. He called it gallina de la tierra (hen of the land) and not by its Náhuatl Indian name of huaxólotl, a name which the Spaniards could not pronounce, therefore they changed the name to guajolote (turkey).
Captain Fernández de Oviedo another noted historian, introduced the turkey to Spain in the year 1523 and by the year 1525, everybody was talking all over Europe about the extraordinary qualities of this bird.
In 1528 during Hernán Cortés’ first trip back to Spain, he took a turkey to the Emperor Charles V, along with a large amount of products from the New World such as vanilla, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, beans, avocado and an innumerable amount of different fruits that are now eaten all over the world.
The English baptized the bird with the name “turkey” or “turkish bird”; the French and the Italians gave it the name of “chicken from Calcutta” since it was considered wrongly so, to be from Calcutta.
In Mexico, turkey is eaten in stews, casseroles and used to be served as well with the famous Mole Poblano, the very famous dish believed to have its origins in the state of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City. Nowadays, turkey is very rarely served with the different moles. Like many other things, it has gone out of style and chicken is now used more and more in all of the above dishes.
As in all catholic countries, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and for the same reason, fish is the main dish, however, in the last 20 years, upper class families have started to add the stuffed turkey to the traditional Bacalao, thus substituting the more peasant-like romeritos, a vegetarian dish cooked in dried chiles.
In English North America, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas are very close together and the fact that turkey meat, in most cases lasted for a week or so after Thanksgiving, makes this particularly so. For the sake of variation, I would like to introduce a new dish to celebrate Christmas with a festive recipe from the state of Zacatecas, where my grandparents were born.
For those of you who have not been in this beautiful colonial city, Zacatecas is situated northeast of Mexico City, and was built around a magnificent baroque cathedral. It has maintained its wonderful colonial architecture, seen all over the city. Zacatecas was originally a mining town with one of the richest silver veins in the world. In fact, in the 1800s, when Mexico was producing two thirds of the world’s silver, a large part of it came from this area.
Zacatecas holds a very important place in the art world. It is a state where famous poets and important artists such as the brothers Rafael and Pedro Coronel, painters and sculptors were born, each with their own museum worthy of a visit. This is just a small sample of what you can see in the capital city of the state of Zacatecas.
ROASTING HEN/CHICKEN, ZACATECAS STYLE
1 (5 to 6 lbs/2.5 K) chicken
3 tbsp. lard or butter
Dash of salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
1 large onion, sliced into rings
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. whole peppercorns
¼ tsp. ground cumin
2 slices of bread
½ cup 2% milk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 ½ cup chopped onion
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup canned tomato sauce
1 cup peeled and chopped apple
½ cup raisins
½ almonds, blanched and toasted
½ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1 lb (500 g) ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper
Rinse the chicken thoroughly, inside and out, pat dry with paper towels, and place in a large bowl or directly into the roasting pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside and out. In a bowl, combine the vinegar, sherry, onion, bay leaves, peppercorn, and cumin, and pour over the chicken. Cover the chicken with aluminum foil and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 8 hours, turning once and basting with the marinade as often as possible.
For the stuffing:
Soak the bread in the milk until most of the milk is absorbed. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, apple, raisins, almonds, and olives, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the ground pork, the bread, and the egg. Sprinkle with the cumin and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade, and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the bird with the lard or the butter, and sprinkle salt, pepper, cumin, and cinnamon inside and out. Fill the cavity with the stuffing and truss loosely. (Bake any remaining stuffing separately for additional servings.)
Using a baster with an injector, inject about ¾ cup of the marinade into the breasts and thighs, and bake the chicken for about 1 ½ hours, depending on the weight, basting the bird as often as possible and turning it for an even roasting.
Serve with the drained pan juices in a gravy boat, with lettuce and chopped radishes on the side. To reheat, cover the chicken with aluminum foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through.
DRUNKEN SALSA (Salsa Borracha)
This salsa is one of the most popular salsas in Mexico, mainly because it can be served with any meat dish. Traditionally, it was made with pulque a fermented alcoholic beverage extracted from the maguey cactus, but because pulque is not available anymore, beer or white wine is used instead.
3 Dry Pasilla chiles
¾ cup fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. chopped onion
¼ cup beer or white wine
½ cup crumbled Queso Fresco or Feta Cheese
Stem the chiles, shake out the seeds, and wash under running water. In a small bowl, soak the chiles in the orange juice for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until completely softened. Transfer the chiles and the soaking liquid to a blender. Add the garlic and onion and process until well blended.
Pour the chile mixture into a salsera or a ceramic bowl, add the beer or the wine, and season with salt. Serve the salsa borracha topped with a generous amount of queso fresco, or good Feta cheese.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a little more on origin of the turkey, the drunken salsa and a different chicken recipe from Zacatecas. Please comment below your thoughts, and what you’d like me to write about if you have any suggestions. I’d love to hear them!
Maria Elena Cuervo-Lorens is the author of Mexican Culinary Treasures cookbook. She takes you back to her childhood, spent around her grandmother’s table on a shopping expedition with her mother to Mercado La Merced, and for a merienda (snack) of café con leche and bizcochos (Mexican sweet rolls) at a bakery in downtown Mexico City. The authentic Mexican recipes she shares with us include tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas. The nouvelle cuisine of cosmopolitan Mexico City, such as cuitlacoche (huitlacohe) crepes, oysters with chipotle chile.