The turkey, you see, is Mexican. It was in the 16th century that the Spanish colonists came across that strange bird and took it to Europe, where it was a hit among the elite precisely because it was large, exotic and looked good at banquet tables. From there, he conquered the world.
As it gains weight easily, the turkey has become a symbol of prosperity in American Thanksgiving Day, celebrated at the end of November. But it was the Portuguese who brought it to our Christmas.
Here, the turkey reigned until 1982, when Perdigão launched the chester —a bird genetically improved to have a turbocharged breast. Because it wasn’t that big, it fit perfectly into the menus of smaller families, and many competing brands came along.
Regardless of the painful species, roasted birds are the stars of Brazilian Christmas — it can be turkey, that festive bird, a simple chicken or a good, well-seasoned country chicken, the favorite option of chef Janaína Rueda, from the restaurant A Casa do Porco and Bar da Dona Onça.
We are not trying to deceive anyone here: serving a succulent, well-seasoned and golden bird requires a little bit of dedication, as the chefs heard in this report teach. The good part is that, for those who like to cook, the party starts well before.
“These ritual foods, which require advance preparation, are very cool. If the house is small and the oven does not hold a turkey, that’s fine, these new options solve the issue well”, says chef Carla Pernambuco, from Carlota restaurant.
From defrosting to how to serve, going through seasonings and even suggestions for using leftovers the next day, all the tips for a tasty and happy Christmas are here.
1. Calculate the amount with a surplus
The calculation depends on the rest of the menu, as explained by chef Alain Poletto, from Bistrot de Paris. “If the bird is the main dish, with few side dishes, I suggest up to 400 grams per person. A four-kilogram bird is ideal for ten people.”
If other main dishes are planned for supper, such as cod or tender ham, just reduce the proportion of each one, so that the sum of proteins reaches 400 grams per person.
2. Defrost correctly
Christmas birds are sold frozen. Safe defrosting, with no risk of contamination, must be done in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
Chef Maddalena Stasi, from the Mercearia do Conde restaurant, recalls that the time can be even longer, 48 hours, in the case of heavier birds.
Tip for first-timers: Christmas birds come with their giblets packed in a plastic bag hidden inside the carcass. You need to remove it before moving on to the next step.
3. Invest in seasoning
The liquid marinade, where the bird must be immersed for up to 24 hours, inside the fridge, is practically unanimous among chefs — that way, they argue, the seasonings reach every corner and the meat remains juicy after roasting.
In this regard, everyone has their own recipe. Morena Leite, chef at the Capim Santo restaurant, tropicalizes the roast by making a marinade with pineapple. The fruit is blended with garlic, onion, carrot, celery, ginger, salt, parsley, black pepper, white wine and olive oil.
Maddalena Stasi replaces salt with soy sauce, an ingredient that she mixes with white wine, garlic, celery, leek, thyme, rosemary and sage. “When the bird is already seasoned, I wash it first to remove the excess of that seasoning, because I think the flavor is artificial”, she explains.
So that the bird absorbs the seasonings evenly, the Carla Pernambuco is to turn it several times in the marinade, in addition to massaging it with each turn.
Chef Janaína Rueda’s country chicken is soaked in brine with six liters of water, one kilo of salt, black peppercorns, red pepper, a sprig of thyme and six slices of orange. Four hours are enough, she guarantees, since the chicken is much smaller than the turkey.
Chef Gabriela Barretto, from the Chou restaurant, also likes smaller birds, preferably organic, but doesn’t agree with the marinade — she prefers dry seasonings.
After removing the skin from the breast, Gabriela applies a mixture of coarse salt, blended in a blender with black pepper, fresh rosemary and lemon zest.
“I put it under the skin, directly on the meat, concentrating a larger amount on the breast, and leave it in the fridge, uncovered, for 24 hours”, he teaches. So that the bird is not in contact with the liquids that are released during the process, the chef suggests supporting it on a wire rack.
4. Prepare a moist and tasty stuffing
The kids farofa is a classic, but not mandatory. Those who don’t give up cassava flour can follow Morena Leite’s advice and prepare a crunchy and sweet farofa, based on different nuts and fruits. Or do like Carla Pernambuco, who enriches the farofa with raw ham, banana and honey.
If the idea is to really innovate, flour can leave the scene to make way for other fillings. Chef of Nelita, who debuted this year in the 50 Best Latin America in 39th place, Tássia Magalhães makes a moist stew, which can be lentils or chestnuts with prunes. “Oilseeds have a lot of fat and help keep the bird juicy”, he teaches.
Janaína Rueda also suggests stuffing the bird with chicken liver pâté, couscous or vegetables. “But what I really like is using small white onions as stuffing”, she confesses.
5. Prepare the roast for the oven
After all that time soaking in the spices, the bird is almost ready to be roasted. Now it’s time to place it in the center of a deep baking dish, already free of the marinade, and grease it with butter, ensuring that the skin is well browned, without cracking.
“It is important to tie the ends of the thigh bones with cotton string, so that they do not come loose during cooking. This way, the presentation is more beautiful”, warns Oghan Teixeira, partner at Ghee Banqueteria.
Chefs are unanimous in stating that watering the bird while it is roasting is fundamental. Caterer Rita Atrib, from the Petit Committee Buffet, uses her own marinade to water the roast at 30-minute intervals.
Carla Pernambuco does it differently. “I melt butter and mix it with orange juice for drizzling,” she says.
6. Control oven temperature
According to Oghan Teixeira, anyone who has an oven with precise temperature control can do without aluminum foil to wrap the bird. “Just bake at 130ºC, for half an hour, and then increase to 180ºC, until golden, opening every 20 minutes to water.”
As most domestic ovens are not so precise and do not even reach such a low temperature, the solution is to resort to aluminum foil. “I start with a preheated oven at 180ºC, for 1h to 1h30, depending on the size of the bird. Then I remove it, water it and keep the oven at 200ºC, until it is golden brown”, says Tássia Magalhães.
Aluminum foil covering has its science, as Rita Atrib explains. “It is essential to close all sides of the pan or ovenproof dish, leaving no gaps, to keep moisture in. The brightest part is in contact with the food, so it doesn’t stick.”
How do you know if you’re ready? “I pierce the thigh with a fork. If the liquid comes out discolored, the bird is roasted. If it comes out reddish, it needs to cook longer”, teaches Maddalena Stasi.
7. Coordinate prep time with dinner time
Chefs recommend getting the bird ready (up to step 5) in advance, to take it to the oven between 2:30 and 3 hours before the meal.
As the cooking process requires constant attention, depending on periodic watering, chef Tássia Magalhães’ trick is as follows: “Earlier, I bake the initial stage, with aluminum foil, and turn off the oven. I return the bird to the preheated oven, without the aluminum, just to heat and brown.”
8. Choose your accompaniments well
Inside the oven, a crust will have formed on the bottom of the pan during cooking — a precious ingredient that gives rise to the sauce, through the process that, in the kitchen, is called deglazing.
“Deglazed with white wine. This broth is what we, the French, call jus do roast. It is the best sauce option, because it does not change the flavor of the bird”, defends Alain Poletto.
In side dishes, mixing sweet and savory flavors is a Christmas tradition. In addition to the classics —baked potatoes, rice and crumbs-, Portuguese chestnuts, fresh or roasted fruits, dried fruits, Moroccan couscous and a good salad, as our summer demands, are served at the table.
“I like to offer grain salad and gingerbread crumbs”, says Maddalena Stasi.
9. Capriche in the way of serving
Arranging the already sliced bird on the platter is a technique for those who are skilled and trained and have an electric knife. Otherwise, it’s better to take on the homemade tone and serve it whole, in all its splendor.
“I think the ritual of slicing the turkey in front of the guests is beautiful. The right thing is to remove the thighs first, then cut the pieces of the breast”, says Poletto.
Part of the side dishes can be arranged around the bird, on the same platter, topped off with a bouquet of fresh herbs — a suggestion by Carla Pernambuco. The sauce goes separately.
10. Don’t waste leftovers the next day
Chef at Zena Caffè, Carlos Bertolazzi has a family tradition: the leftover turkey from supper becomes a salad for lunch the next day.
After being shredded, the meat is mixed with mayonnaise, Sicilian lemon juice, pitted grapes cut in half, finely sliced celery and a little bit of chopped pepper.
Carla Pernambuco prefers to turn leftovers into stuffing for the club sandwich, the famous three-tiered sandwich made with sliced bread (or miga bread) without crust, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.