Just in time for the holidays, here is the antidote to yet another boring turkey on your table. Whether you love or despise the popular holiday bird, your palate will be dancing to the beat of the Caribbean with these spicy, flavourful notes. Be prepared to have a Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner like no other.
Neither of us used to be crazy about turkey, to be frank. It’s really just a boring bird. Well that is how we have thought of the popular American holiday main dish for most of our years. After all, seasoned with little more than salt and pepper, most of the turkey we have tasted has made chicken look like foie gras.
The Jamaican holiday table is packed with spicy notes that add bang to every bite. We love complex flavours and don’t tolerate bland. Over the years it has become popular along with the staple cured ham at Christmas in Jamaican home. Even though Thanksgiving is not a traditional Jamaican holiday, as a spiritual people, we are happy to share in the spirit of being thankful for whatever our cups have been blessed with. Here’s how to ‘Jamaicanize’ your turkey and have a irie jamming Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Perfect seasonal holiday side dish- try our simple yet tasty Roasted Beet & Apple Salad
Why not add a tasty vegan rice and bean side as well? Here is our Jamaican Rice and Peas, which really should be the national dish of our homeland on account of how much of it we eat!
For dessert we had our Appleton Jamaican Rum Cake, which we are taking orders for as well as the ever loved Vegan Jamaican Sweet Potato Pudding.
CHEF’S NOTE: There are a few key tips for a juicy turkey. The first is not to marinate with salt for an excessively long period. We used 3-4 hours here. The second is to bring the bird to room temperature before cooking it. Shocking meat with extreme termperature changes makes for tough chewing. The third tip is to cook it low and slow. It’s easy to want to rush it but most people go wrong here. Do not turn the oven too high. This works for any meat to be roasted or braised as well. Last, but certainly not least, please don’t cook the silly bird for 6-8 hours! Whoever told you that turkeys take all day to cook must have been talking about the very old tough, wild game birds, not the ones farmed for sale, like the one probably sitting in your freezer already. Trust me. What really matters is that you get a reliable meat thermometer and an oven thermometer.
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- Makes enough for a turkey up to 7kg or 16lbs. Will last in refrigerator for roughly 3-4 weeks in an air-tight container.
- 1 whole turkey, up to 7kgs or 16 pounds
- 5 onions (approximately 400 grams)
- 4 cups chopped scallions/green onions
- 8 stalks fresh thyme
- 9 cloves of garlic (approximately 40g)
- ¼ cup allspice berries or 1 ½ tsp ground allspice
- 2 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers /substitute with habaneros (with seeds)
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns or 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 5 tsp fine sea salt (for a 6kg turkey, less if substituting with table salt)
- ½ cup cooking oil (a plain oil like sunflower)
- 1 tbsp distilled cane vinegar
- cornstarch (or other thickener) to thicken gravy
- METHOD FOR JERK SEASONING
- Set salt aside and do not combine with the seasoning.
- If using whole allspice berries and black peppercorns, dry roast them in a frying pan until the pan starts to smoke. Remove from heat, and grind the spices in a spice grinder. Combine with all other dry spices and set aside.
- In a blender, puree the onions, thyme, garlic, ginger, peppers and vinegar, and oil. Add the dry spices and pulse until incorporated.
- Add scallions and pulse several times to shred, careful to not blend them or they will render the seasoning bitter.
- Pour the mixture into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to fully combine.
- METHOD TO ROAST TURKEY
- Defrost turkey in fridge 3 days before you intend to cook it.
- Two days before cooking, clean the turkey and pat it dry, removing innards and any plastic ties for the legs. Keep the neck.
- Apply jerk seasoning liberally to your turkey. Make sure to get it into every nook and cranny of the cavities and inside the neck cavity and chest area. Season neck as well. Add any excess marinade to the grooves of the wings and legs and on top of the breast. Cover with aluminum foil and return to the refrigerator.
- Around 3-4 hours before cooking time, remove the turkey from fridge and add salt all over and inside the cavities. Replace cover and leave on top of kitchen counter to come to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 260C /500F.
- Grease roasting pan with oil. Tuck the wing tips under the turkey and truss the legs together. Tying the legs together is essential for even roasting.
- Drain excess liquid and place the turkey bottom-side-down in the center of the roasting pan. Place in the center of the oven and cook 30 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 130 C / 265F.
- After the turkey has been in the oven for one hour, turn around the roasting pan to compensate for any hot spots in the oven and to ensure even browning.
- Roast for 2- 2.5 hours or until the deepest part of the breast gives a reading of 70 C/ 161 F. Remove from the oven to rest for at least 30 minutes. Despite your eagerness to pinch, let the bird rest in peace. Literally! That’s what the neck is for. Grab your phone, take your best shot and brag about it on Instagram. Carve the meat against the grain.
- To make a tasty pan gravy, cook excess marinade and add pan drippings. Strain, then skim excess oil. Return to stove and stir continuously. Thicken with a runny paste of cornstarch and water to desired consistency.
- Allow the turkey to rest before carving. It's best to carve just slightly warm or even cold (if you like cold food) for the best results