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. Puerto Ricans weren’t really part of the original festivities, but they have embraced it eagerly. They’ve also put their twist on this classic American tradition.
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.
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.
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.
Much of the holiday is spent the same way as it is in the States. Most businesses are closed, the family gets together, there is a ridiculous amount of food, and people go shopping afterward.
So what’s the difference? The answer is what’s for dinner. Puerto Ricans have a feast all their own. Here’s what’s on the menu:
Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Sample
It’s all about the turkey but on the island, it’s cooked a little differently:
Turkey – We season the turkey a bit differently using Adobo and Sazónas opposed to cloves, rosemary, etc. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we thaw the turkey and coat it well with a marinade of sazón, white vinegar, adobo, and meat tenderizer. After all parts of the turkey – inside, out, and under the skin – are coated, the turkey goes back in the fridge to marinate for the next two days.
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.
Stuffing – My family’s turkey stuffing is meat-based (ground beef specifically) and then we add bread crumbs, potatoes, and carrots to it. Specifically, the night before Thanksgiving, you should cook picadillo-ish ground beef and add the turkey gizzards and neck meat after having boiled them in salt water. On Thanksgiving, you boil some cube-sized potatoes, and mix them into the ground beef mixture along with bread crumbs. This then gets stuffed into the turkey.
Arroz con Vegetales – Translation is Rice with vegetables. This will be a yellow rice with some mixed vegetables (peas & carrots, corn, etc). Many households serve arroz con gandules or some other variation of yellow rice.
Sweet Potatoes – Standard sweet potatoes but instead of adding brown sugar or marshmallows and such like the traditional way, we just cut them up into thirds or quarters and boil them with salt. Sweet potatoes already have a great taste on their own.
Macaroni Salad – Macaroni, shredded carrots, cut-up green olives, and mayonnaise.
Cranberry Sauce – Our house has always served it straight out of the can. Of course, I’ve been given some cranberry sauce recipes recently, but have yet to try them. The can just seems so easy. 😉
Gravy – Growing up, my grandma would just make gravy from scratch to serve. However, I watch far too many cooking shows and learned how easy it is to make your own gravy. Now, if I’m ever asked to host Thanksgiving dinner, I use the turkey drippings along with chicken broth and flour to make my own turkey gravy.
Dessert- What’s Thanksgiving without dessert? Instead of pumpkin pie, Puerto Ricans typically finish off their meal with tembleque, a kind of cinnamon-coated coconut custard. Another favorite is dulce de leche, a custard made from caramelized milk.
After Thanksgiving, Puerto Ricans like to take it easy… just like Americans. Many go to the beach. Many find a hammock or a bottle of something strong. The next day, people go shopping, just like Americans. And lastly, Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas season in Puerto Rico, which is truly a wonderful time of the year.
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.