Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Eve Turkey

One of the most deeply imbedded customs in Peru is eating turkey for the Christmas Eve meal. The very poor will serve chicken or sometimes duck, but most people find a way to have turkey. For whatever reason we’ve discovered that turkey in Chiclayo is pound for pound more expensive than in the States. I don’t understand why that should be.

Supermarkets sell frozen turkeys but Peruvians prefer everything they eat to be fresh, so some raise their own – it’s not unusual when walking the streets to hear a turkey gobble, though this practice has greatly diminished over the years. Others buy them freshly killed from various markets, or purchase live from street venders. The woman in this photo (taken Christmas Eve day) has only two turkeys left, though she may have access to more. This man was trying to negotiate but she was holding firm at 130 soles - $45 each. She’ll probably get her price because the turkeys are ‘black’. Even though both black and white turkeys are raised on farms all over Peru, prevailing wisdom is that blacks have better flavor and unlike the whites are not chemically raised. Frozen turkeys at Tottus or Plaza Vea are less expensive because they’re white, though still more expensive than in the States.

Next is the matter of cooking the turkey. Many if not most Chiclayanos don’t have a regular stove with oven. For every day cooking they have a 2 or 3 burner table top gas stove. It’s much less expensive and doesn’t take up living space. So how does the turkey get cooked? You take it to your local baker. Small neighborhood bakeries like this one stop baking bread and pastries 2 days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve day ovens are devoted solely to cooking turkeys.

Customers are responsible for preparation of the turkey and for the roasting container. The baker’s responsibility is limited to putting it in the oven and taking it out when ready. Chiclayanos all seem to have the same recipe for a thick, brown marinade. I don’t know what the ingredients are but honestly to me the taste borders on terrible (I don’t think I’m going to ask Maribel to proof-read this entry). At the time of this photo the baker had 40 turkeys in 2 ovens. Maribel claims the turkey lower-left is a white because of the large breast and thick legs. She much prefers the longer, leaner ‘black’ behind it. The bakery owner said each turkey took 4 to 5 hours to cook. She said the turkey is done when no liquid emerges from the breast when stuck with a probe. Can you identify the 3 ducks?

Our turkey was a frozen white from Tottus. I’m guessing it was about 20 to 22 pounds. It was cooked in our oven and took only 3 ½ hours at 325F. It was delicious (once I got past the marinade). Usually the Christmas Eve meal is eaten at the parent’s home, but this time the family assembled at our apartment. We did adhere to the custom of eating exactly (and I do mean exactly) at midnight after hugging and wishing each other a happy Christmas. Beside the turkey we had (upper right to lower left) a basket of empanadas de aire which in English translates to air pies, salad, semi-sweet wine, sliced peaches, and the ever present paneton. Hot chocolate is served with the meal. Except for the peaches and salad, these are the standard food and beverage items for Christmas Eve dinner across all of Peru.

Happy Holidays from Tom, Maribel & Brian.

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