My husband is the Puerto Rican Ben Kingsley. What I find most interesting (and charming) about the ethnic assumptions strangers frequently make about him is that they all want to claim him as one of their own. “Because he’s so obviously Jewish?” someone asked when introduced to Mr. P at a party and told by the host he reminded her of her husband. The local pizzeria proprietor in our old neighborhood couldn’t be convinced, and repeatedly asked if he was sure he wasn’t Lebanese. Right after 911, friends and family suggested he give the beard a little time off because of his uncanny resemblance to an Egyptian hijacker. That the hijacker had died hijacking went unmentioned. When I met Mr. P for the first time back in ’99, I thought “Penya” must be Italian and started researching Lasagna recipes. Then I got wind of the tilde. Cuban by way of his father, it was his Puerto Rican mother, Sra. C, who did all the cooking, so most of my attempts to recreate the comfort foods of his childhood hail from the Territory as opposed to the Republic. The following is a common P.R. Thanksgiving main dish, and for the years that I’ve made it in place of a roasting a whole bird, I’ve gotten delightful reviews and tryptophan poisoning tantamount to that of a traditional WASP turkey dinner.
Pavo en Fricasé
1 substantial but modest turkey, cut up into official pieces, with skin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 packet Sazón (in the “international” section with the Goya products)
salt and pepper
4 oz ham, chopped
1 large bay leaf
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 hot pepper, your choice
1 C seeded, peeled and chopped tomatoes (submerging the whole tomatoes into boiling water for a few minutes will shrink the skin for easier removal)
2 C chicken stock
1/2 C green olives, sliced
1 tbsp capers
2 pimentos, chopped
Mix the garlic, oregano, vinegar, Sazón, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper together, and rub the resulting paste all over the turkey pieces. The annato in the Sazón will stain your fingers up through your next two shampoos if you don’t use rubber gloves. Rub the seasoning under the turkey skin where possible. Wrap it up on a plate and chill it for 4 hours.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in the deepest pan you have. Saute the onion and ham for a few minutes to brown slightly. Transfer them to a bowl, add a little more oil to the pan, turn it up to high, and then put all the turkey in, shoving the pieces together to give each as much pan-contact as possible. Brown the turkey on high for three minutes, then turn the pieces over and brown for three minutes more.
Now add back the onions and ham, as well as the bay leaf, pepper, tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir it all up with the turkey in what will be the most awkward spoon-work of your life. Keep the heat on high until the liquid boils, then add only as much water as necessary to cover the turkey completely. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until the turkey is cooked all the way through. Remove and toss the pepper and bay leaf, and add the olives, capers and pimentos. Heat uncovered over low for 5 minutes to warm up the last ingredients.
This should be served with medium-grain white rice, prepared according to package directions; Canilla is Sra. C’s brand of choice, therefore our brand of choice. Putting some of the sauce on the rice is a great idea.