Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder why we don’t do more interesting things with turkeys?” I did the other day while I was organizing my chest freezer. It was a thought that stuck with me as I sorted and persisted until I pulled a turkey out in mid-January to defrost and sat down to browse Pinterest to browse for inspiration. I found an awesome recipe for Pernil Style Turkey, which I had to make.
For those who don’t know (I certainly didn’t before I sat down to write), Pernil is a Puerto Rican dish often served at Christmas. A bone-in pork shoulder is marinated/flavored with sofrito and spices and then slow roasted until tender before it’s finished with a blast of heat to crisp the skin. This pernil-inspired turkey utilizes some of the same preparation method and is massaged with a rub inspired by the dish Puerto Rican dish.
Preparing a this turkey requires some planning, as you’ll want to rub the bird down the night before you intend to cook it, at the latest. I allowed mine to marinate for two nights and cooked it on the third night. Everything needed to make the rub is pictured above: Crushed garlic, salt, adobo, white pepper, cumin, pepper, oregano, Sazon with achiote and apple cider vinegar.
Next, the bird meets the rub, also known as the best thing that’s ever happened to it. Punctures are made in the breasts, thighs, and legs and some pockets are made under the skin for the express purpose of receiving the rub, and the bird is massaged all over with the stuff. I chose to wear exam gloves for this part, by the way, because I am not at all okay with raw meat rub getting under my nails. It’s gross and it will certainly end up in my mouth somehow. So, gloves.
Now that the turkey and the rub have met, it’s time to leave them alone for a while. Two days wrapped up in the fridge should be long enough for them to get to know each other pretty well. As it happens, that’s also long enough for my oven to decided out of the blue that it actually doesn’t like being an oven and would much rather be a paper weight.
Instead of putting the turkey on at 3 p.m. and having a delicious, perfectly cooked turkey with pernil flavorings several hours later, I was forced to improvise. I spent the entire night before stressing out and making barbed comments about my oven. I considered grilling it – that is, setting my wood pellet grill to 350° and hoping I have enough wood pellets for 3+ hours of cook time. I considered borrowing my fiance’s mom’s oven (which is the closest oven, geographically, that I have seen with my own eyes), but I didn’t like that idea very much. So, I went to bed, still unsure of what to do.
My fiance left for work at 5:45 a.m. the next morning. At 5:46 a.m., I remembered that crock pots exist. Then I decided that a twelve-pound turkey could absolutely fit in my biggest crock pot, no problem, because spacial reasoning is not my strength at six in the morning. A twelve-pound turkey, by the way, does not, in any meaningful capacity, fit in a standard-sized crock pot. This is why I own 2 of them. One for the breast, one for the legs and thighs and wings. The back went into a stock pot with some vegetable scraps. And then everything cooked all day long.
I have so few words to describe how delicious this turkey came out, to be honest. It was perfectly moist, well-seasoned, and tender. The bones literally fell away as I pulled it out to carve it. This pernil-inspired turkey was literally the most delicious, moist turkey I have ever eaten, let alone made. It was beautiful, and the leftovers have been great on sandwiches, in Turkey Tetrazzini (Use some your leftovers for that, because it’s yummy), and in another pasta dish that I’ll be sharing next week.
- 1 Turkey, about 12 lbs
- 1-2 Cloves Garlic, cut into 8 slivers
- 5 Tbsp Crushed Garlic
- 3 Tbsp Oregano
- 2 Tbsp Course Sea Salt
- 2 Tbsp Black Pepper
- 1.5 Tbsp Cumin
- 1.5 Tbsp Adobo
- 1 Tbsp White Pepper
- 1 Packet Sazon con Culantro y Achiote
- 1 Tbsp Apple Cidar Vinegar
- Combine Rub ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Remove the neck and organs from the turkey and set aside for other uses, such as stock. Dry the turkey thoroughly.
- Using a small sharp knife, make 2 small, x-shaped, bone-deep cuts in each breast and one in each thigh.
- Using your fingers, make some small pockets under the skin of the bird on the thighs, legs, and breast, leaving some intact skin.
- Use your finger to push some rub and a sliver of garlic into each of the cuts and massage some rub under the skin in the pockets you made.
- Massage the inside of the turkey with some of the rub and then thoroughly massage more rub all over the outside of the turkey. You should still have some rub leftover; put it in an air-tight container and set aside.
- Place the turkey in a vessel big enough to hold it and contain any juices it releases while it marinates, such as a large cake pan or a roasting pan. Cover it and store it and the remaining rub in the fridge.
- Allow the turkey to marinate at least overnight or up to three days.
- Remove the turkey and spare rub from the fridge 8-10 hours before you intend to serve the turkey.
- Separate the thighs, legs, and wings from the body of the turkey by cutting through the joint. Place them into a crock pot, add some of the leftover rub and a few tablespoons of water and cover.
- Turn the remainder of the turkey over and, using kitchen shears, cut out the back and set aside for other uses, such as stock. Place the breast, skin-side up, in a second crock pot, add the remaining rub and some water, and cover.
- Set both crock pots to low and cook for 8-10 hours, or until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast reads 165°F.
- Carve and serve!