Turkey Loco


"Crazy turkey" is the centerpiece of this Mexican-inspired Thanksgiving fiesta.

The turkey takes its shape and seasonings from a popular Mexican technique for barbecued chicken. Split through the backbone and laid flat, the butterflied bird cooks quickly and browns all over. A Los Angeles restaurant chain that specializes in this kind of chicken named itself Pollo Loco--"crazy chicken." We call our thanksgiving bird "Turkey loco."

Stuffing, which no Thanksgiving dinner can do without, goes not inside the bird but into mild chilies (or pimientos or bell peppers).

Following the flavor accents of Mexico, the tart, fresh cranberry relish becomes a salsa with the addition of cilantro and chilies; the slightly sugared sweet potatoes are sparked with lime and tequila; and onions roast dark and mellow in a piquant marinade. Humble and often ignored, canned hominy (similar in taste to the Mexican corn preparation, nixtamal) is an ideal neutral element in this menu. For bread, serve warm corn tortillas to butter.

As refreshing before-dinner antojitos, orange wedges, pineapple chunks, and jicama sticks--typical Mexican street snacks--are offered with a red chili salt. And there are peanuts to nibble.

For dessert, consider the pumpkin creme brulee on page 114, with its smooth custard base and crisp sugar crust.

Every dish in this meal for 16 has steps that can be done ahead. Antojitos Tray Spanish Peanuts Turkey Loco Stuffed Chilies Cranberry Salsa Sweet Potatoes with Tequila and Line Roasted Onions Buttered Hominy Warm Corn Tortillas Pumpkin Creme Brulee Sauvignon Blanc Zinfandel Fresh Limeade

A day ahead, you can assemble the antojito tray, butterfly the turkey, get the stuffed chilies ready to bake, make the cranberry salsa, cook the sweet potatoes (reheat them later to serve), and marinate the onions. The chilies and onions cook at the same temperature; put chilies on an upper oven rack, onions on a lower.

Hominy and tortillas need only to be briefly warmed before serving.

Serve white and red wine, or beer. Or offer mineral water or fresh limeade. Antojitos Tray

Cut 3 large unpeeled oranges into 8 wedges each. Cut 1 medium-size (about 4 1b.) ripe, unpeeled pineapple crosswise into 1/2-inch slices; remove core and cut each slice into quarters. Scrub and peel 1-1/2 pounds jicama; cut into 1/4-by 1/4-by 3-inch sticks. Coat fruit and jicama with lime juice; you need about 1/2 cup juice.

Mix 1/4 cup salt with 1 tablespoon paprika and 1 teaspoon cayenne or chili powder. Arrange on a tray to serve; dip foods in salt. Accompany with additional lime wedges to squeeze over foods if desired. If made ahead, cover with plastic wrap and chill as long as 1 day. Serves 10 to 16. Turkey Loco 1 turkey (10 to 12 lb.; thaw if frozen) About 4 limes, cut into halves About 4 teaspoons dry oregano leaves Salt and pepper

Have you meatman saw through the length of the turkey's backbone; or, at home, use spring-loaded poultry shears and cut just along the bone--or use a heavy knife and hit with a flat mallet.

Lay turkey on its breast and pull it open from the back, pushing down to flatten; some ribs will crack. Discard fat lumps. If done ahead, cover and chill as long as overnight.

Ignite 50 charcoal briquets on the fire grate of a barbecue (at least 21-in. diameter) with lid. When coals are just covered with gray askh, push half the coals to each side of the grate and set a 9- by 13-inch drip pan in the center. Position barbecue grill 6 to 8 inches above the fire grate. Lay spread-open bird, breast up, on grill over drip pan. Squeeze and rub 1 or 2 lime halves over turkey; sprinkle with oregano and lightly with salt and pepper.

Cover barbecue and open dampers. Every 1/2 hour, squeeze and rub 1 or 2 more lime halves onto turkey and add 5 or 6 briquets to each side of the coals to maintain constant temperature. …

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