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yucatan turkey
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4 from 1 vote

Yucatan-style Turkey

I made this with the legs, thighs and wings of a decent tom. Gauge your cooking times off this. A jake or domesticated turkey will take less time to cook, and older longbeard more. Needless to say this recipe is more about method than meat choice. The Yucatecans also do this same dish with either chicken and venison, and anything you think might taste good here will work. Serve your turkey with tortillas or rice, along with a fresh salsa if you want, cilantro and maybe some roasted and sliced poblano peppers. Chopped chives mixed with the cilantro is a good idea, too.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 25 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw


  • Drumsticks, thighs and wings from a turkey
  • Gizzard and heart of a turkey, cut in chunks (optional)
  • 1/2 cup achiote paste
  • 2 teaspoons salt (smoked salt if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons melted lard or vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup Seville orange juice (see above)
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 1 white or yellow onion, quartered
  • 3 Roma tomatoes , sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon oregano (Mexican if you can get it)
  • 1 teaspoon achiote verde (optional)
  • 2 sprigs fresh epazote (optional)
  • 1/4 cup achiote paste
  • 1 or 2 chipotles in adobo (optional)
  • Masa harina, only if you are making your own achiote paste


  • To get the turkey ready, you can brine it at a ratio of 1/4 cup kosher salt to 1 quart of water for a few hours if you want. Definitely do this for old turkeys. Next mix all the remaining turkey ingredients together to make a mixture that has the consistency of BBQ sauce. Coat the turkey pieces with it and marinate in the fridge at least 30 minutes, and up to a day.
  • If you want to save time, while the turkey is marinating, you can char the 2 heads of garlic, onion and tomatoes on the grill. Or you can do it all at once. Obviously a wood-burning grill is best, but any type will be fine. You want a good char on all the vegetables. Char only the cut side of the tomatoes. Get some good char marks on the turkey, too, but don't worry about cooking the pieces all the way through -- that's what the braising is for. Once everything is nicely charred, set it aside.
  • To make the sauce, roughly chop the onion and tomato, and peel the cloves of 1 head of garlic, plus at least 4 more cloves from the second head. I like to use all of both head of garlic. In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, cook the vegetables in lard or vegetable oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and move everything into a blender or food processor.
  • Add to this the oregano, achiote paste and epazote (if using), the red achiote paste, chipotles and about a cup or so of water. Puree until more or less smooth.
  • Put the turkey pieces into the pot and cover with the sauce. Pour some more water into the blender to get every bit of the sauce stuck to the sides and pour that into the pot, too. You want the turkey to just barely be submerged. Bring this to a simmer and add salt to taste. Cover the pot and simmer gently over low heat, stirring once in a while, until the turkey is tender. A domesticated turkey should take 45 minutes or so, a jake maybe an hour or 90 minutes, and an old tom up to 3 hours.
  • By now the sauce should be plenty thick. If it is not, whisk in some masa harina until it thickens to the consistency of BBQ sauce.
  • To serve, you have a few choices. You can lift away large pieces of turkey from the bones (make sure to remove all the drumstick tendons!) and serve in the sauce with rice or tortillas. Or, if you want to go the taco route, shred the meat more fully. Top with any of the accompaniments listed in the headnotes.


If you happen to have leftovers, they will keep for a week in the fridge.