Turkey Escabeche recipe

escabeche_orientalThis a traditional turkey escabeche recipe.  A true tradional meal in the Yucatan peninsula.  This particular turkey escabeche recipe has been handed down from generation to generation.  To achieve that intoxicating fragrance and flavor, a small, whole trussed turkey is simmered in seasoned water, but before it’s done it’s whisked off the stove, cooled a bit, thoroughly massaged with recado de bistec (Yucatan’s peppery spice paste), taken outdoors and plopped onto a hot grill.  On the grill the turkey’s skin is browned first on the back and then turned over to the front, finally turning twice more to brown each side, all the while basting generously with more recado de bistec. Only when the turkey is brown and crispy fully cooked is it taken off the grill.  Every Christmas Eve this will be being prepared in homes all over Cancun and the Yucatana peninsula.


Turkey Escabeche

Serves about 8 to 12


For the Recado de Bistec ( 1 cup):

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 head garlic, coarsely chopped

1 (4-inch) stick of cinammon

6 dried chiles de arbol

8 ounces black peppercorns

2 white onions, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (McCormick is good)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cloves


1. Heat the oil in a small skillet. Sauté the garlic until golden, and then scrape into a blender jar. Put the canela and chiles in the same skillet and cook a few minutes to lightly brown and release their aromas. Slide from the heat onto a plate.

2. Scoop the peppercorns into the blender with the garlic and blend to grind. Break up the cinammon and chile into the jar and grind again. Measure in the remaining ingredients and blend about a minute until smooth, adding a little water as necessary. This can be made weeks in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

For the turkey:


2 heads garlic, broken apart but not peeled

2 fresh habañero chiles

1 turkey, either a trussed 12-pounder to cook whole or a larger bird cut into a dozen pieces

3 tablespoons sea salt or kosher salt

6 large red onions

8 tablespoons Recado de Bistec paste

1 cup white vinegar, divided

4 bay leaves

Charcoal (mesquite if possible) for the grill

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Corn tortillas and/or baguettes


1. Toast the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles on a medium-hot, ungreased griddle (or heavy skillet) until black spots show on all sides.

2. Put the turkey (whole or pieces) in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water, salt, garlic and whole chiles. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a strong simmer with the cover askew. Cook until the internal temperature of the thigh is 150 degrees Fahrenheit and rosy at the bone, about 45 minutes, but time depends on size of bird.

3. Peel and thickly slice the onions about ¼-inch thick. Put into a very large bowl and cover with cold water for 15 minutes. Break into rings, drain and return to the bowl.

4. In a small bowl, whisk 8 tablespoons recado paste in ⅔ cup of the vinegar to dissolve. Pour over the onion rings. Break up the bay leaves, add to the onions and stir.

5. Start a charcoal fire. Place the grill about 4 inches from the coals.

6. When the turkey is ready, remove it from the broth, drain and put on a plate to cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Keep the broth at a slow simmer for the onions.

7. Rub 2 tablespoons recado paste dissolved in 4 tablespoons vinegar and rub over the turkey. Marinate at room temperature meanwhile the grill is heating.

8. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot, dump in the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, 10 minutes. Set the pot aside off the heat. Keep the onions a bit crisp. Toss the garlic on top of the onions. Place the whole chiles on a separate small dish for spicy food lovers to break into tiny pieces at the table, and set aside.

9. With a large spoon or bulb baster, remove as much fat as possible from the surface of the broth. Slowly ladle broth over the onions until they are covered with liquid. (Strain, cool and reserve the remaining broth for soup or another use.) Pour the remaining vinegar over the onions and mix. Taste for salt. The broth should be a little sour.

10. Place the turkey on the grill to brown. Thin the remaining recado paste with water to baste with a brush. Baste generously, turning the whole bird (or pieces) as it cooks. Bring the internal thigh temperature to 165 F. Be sure to brown every part and crisp the skin. Remove from the grill and let it rest 20 minutes.

11. Transfer the warm escabeche (vinegared onions) to a large bowl with some broth. Cut the crisp turkey into serving pieces and arrange on a platter. Serve with corn tortillas and/or baguettes to break apart and soak up juices.

So if you are coming to Cancun this Christmas be sure to try Turkey in Escabeche in one of the local restaurants Cancun Restaurants

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