Oaxacan-Style Thanksgiving with Help from Brown Ale

Cooking with Beer by | Nov 2014 | Issue #94

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Instead of the classic American Thanksgiving feast, I went with a Mexican theme this year. In particular, the gastronomic region of Oaxaca called to my creativity as a great canvas for the different flavors of beer to play off. Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you enjoy!

Oaxacan-Style Beer Brine for Poultry
Oaxacan cuisine abounds with chilies, chocolate and other flavors. This recipe takes advantage of Brown Ale’s melanoidin-rich malt bill to enhance the flavors from this Mexican region. The brine will season the bird from the inside out, creating a very special centerpiece on your Thanksgiving table.

Makes: 10 quarts, enough for one 18–26 pound turkey, 4 chickens or 10 Cornish game hens

Beer Brine Ingredients:
3 tbsp olive oil
6 each Spanish onion, large, peeled and sliced
1 each leek, washed, sliced in half and chopped, using only the white/light green end
4 each carrots, peeled and sliced
2 each ancho chilies, dried, stem and seeds removed
2 each chipotle chilies, dried, stem and seeds removed
2 each guajillo chilies, dried, stem and seeds removed
10 each garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
5 each bay leaves, preferably fresh (or 8 dried), torn into pieces
2 bunches oregano, preferably fresh
1 cup sugar, dark brown
4 each oranges or tangerines, quartered
1 qt water
2 cups kosher salt (do not use iodized salt)
2 tbsp black peppercorns, whole
6 lb. ice or 3 quarts cold water
4 qt (11 12 oz bottles) Brown Ale, like Short’s Bellaire Brown or Dogfish Indian Brown Ale or a Vienna-style lager, like Dos Equis Amber or Negra Modelo

In a large stockpot over medium high heat, add the olive oil, leeks and carrots. Sauté the mixture, stirring frequently, as the brine will become bitter if they burn. After 10 minutes add the chilies, garlic, bay leaves and oregano, sautéing for an additional 5–8 minutes, or until the onions caramelize to a dark brown color. Turn down the heat to medium and add the brown sugar, stirring to combine for another 2–3 minutes. The sugar will help the vegetables caramelize.

Deglaze the pot with the tangerines (squeezing their juice into the vegetables, then add the rind), stir for a minute, then add a quart of water. Stir in the salt and pepper and bring the brine to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for 30 minutes. Next, add the ice or cold water, stirring to further cool the mixture. Lastly, add the Brown Ale. Waiting until the end to add the beer will prevent the heat from changing its flavor profile. Mix to combine all the ingredients and measure the brine’s temperature. To be safe to use, a thermometer should read 40°F or lower. If it is warmer, refrigerate until it reaches 40°F.

Turkey Ingredients:
1 each turkey, 18–26 pounds, preferably free-range, organic or heritage
1 bunch oregano, fresh
1 each tangerine or orange, quartered
1 each pomegranate, seeded

Turkey Preparation:
Take the fresh turkey out of its package. Remove the neck, gizzards and liver, setting aside for use in a stock or gravy. Rinse the bird under cold water, turning it a few times to wash any blood from the cavity and under the neck flap. Pluck any remaining quills. Lightly dry the turkey with paper towels.

Beer Brine Instructions:
If you have room in a refrigerator or kegerator, ready a large food grade bucket, large stockpot or a large heavy-duty plastic bag. Place the turkey into your container of choice and top off with the chilled brine, submerging the turkey completely. Then place in the cold space.

If cold space is limited, use a large cooler cleaned with a bleach/water solution or use a large heavy-duty plastic bag. Place the turkey in the cooler or bag and cover with the brine. Use one-gallon sealable bags filled with ice to keep the bird ice cold without diluting the salinity or flavor of the brine.

Brine the turkey for 24 (for a smaller 16 pound bird) to 48 hours (for a larger 22+ pound bird). Keep the turkey and brine cold during this time. Rotate the turkey in the brine every 12 hours to allow it to evenly marinate.

Oven Roasting Instructions:
Remove the turkey from the beer brine and dry well inside and out with paper towels. This will help the finished skin become a crunchy brown. Place the turkey, breast side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack. Fill the cavity with the oregano and tangerine. Tuck and fold the wings behind its back and truss the turkey with twine to help the bird cook evenly. Ideally, let the turkey sit at room temperature for 2 hours prior to roasting. A warmer turkey will cook more evenly. Discard the brine.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F on a convection roast/bake setting if possible. I highly recommend using a temperature probe to make sure the turkey is cooked to the appropriate temperature instead of estimating a length of time by its weight. Take readings from the middle of a breast or in the thigh. Make sure the probe isn’t touching a bone, which will result in a false reading. Set the temperature alarm to 160°F. Once it’s removed from the oven, the carry-over heat will bring the bird’s final temperature to 165°F, eliminating any salmonella risk.

Remove the turkey from the oven, cover with aluminum foil and let rest at room temperature for 20–30 minutes before carving. This will help re-distribute the juices, keeping the turkey moist.

With the Latin flavors in this recipe, the leftover turkey meat can become a wonderful ingredient for many other dishes such as tamales, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and moles.

Walnut Brown Ale Sauce
As an alternative to gravy or mole, try this recipe. Its rich, nutty and silky elegance is perfect over turkey meat.

Makes: approximately 1 quart

10 oz walnuts, shelled
1 lb. queso fresco cheese, crumbled
2 cups crèma (Blanco), Crème Fraiche or sour cream
12 oz beer, Brown Ale such as Short’s Bellaire Brown or Dogfish Indian Brown Ale
2 tbsp sugar, light brown
kosher salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the walnuts onto a sheet tray and toast until lightly brown, about 10–12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Transfer the walnuts to a blender pitcher. Add the cheese, crèma, Brown Ale and sugar. Blend on low, increasing to high speed. Let the nuts and cheese grind together until a smooth sauce is formed, about 2–4 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add more beer, 2 ounces at a time. Taste and adjust the salt as needed. Use the sauce immediately, or refrigerate up to 5 days.

Chorizo Pumpkin Seed Stuffing-Filled Pasillas
You can’t have Thanksgiving without stuffing. Roasted pasilla peppers are perfect for filling with a chorizo and pumpkin seed stuffing to serve as a special side dish at this Oaxacan feast.

Serves: 10–14 people

8 each sweet sandwich rolls, like a Mexican Bolillo or Telera, cubed
2 1/2 cups pumpkin or pepita seeds, shelled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
4 oz unsalted butter
2 lb. chorizo, pork or beef, not Spanish style, casing removed
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
3 each Spanish onions, peeled and chopped
2 each bay leaves, preferably fresh
6 each garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 bunch oregano, leaves only
24 oz beer, like a Brown Ale or a Vienna lager
16 oz goat cheese, crumbled
10–14 each pasilla peppers (one per guest)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange the cubed rolls into a single layer onto several sheet trays and toast the bread until it is light golden in color, about 15 minutes. Transfer them to a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, add the pumpkin seeds and coat with the oil and salt. Place onto sheet trays and toast for 10–12 minutes, or until golden brown.

In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the chorizo and break it apart with a spatula as it cooks. After about 6 minutes, add the cumin, coriander, onions and bay leaves. Cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions turn brownish-red in color. Add the garlic and oregano and cook for 3 minutes more. Deglaze the pan with your beer of choice and remove from heat. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and add 2 cups of the pumpkin seeds and crumbled goat cheese. Lightly season with salt and pepper and toss to combine all the ingredients. Let the mix rest so the bread can absorb the beer from the chorizo.

Roast the pasilla peppers over an open flame burner or on a grill until all sides are slightly charred.  Place peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam for 20–30 minutes. Remove the charred skin and make a small slit on the side of each pepper, to extract the seeds.

To fill the peppers, take a medium-sized handful of the stuffing and lightly squeeze it, making a similar shape to the pepper. Insert the stuffing into the slit cut in each pepper, and using the palms of your hands, re-form the pepper by pressing it together. Place them into a lightly oiled casserole dish or roasting pan. Arrange the peppers in rows and heat through in the oven for about 20 minutes. Any remaining stuffing can be divided among ramekins and baked with the peppers. Garnish the peppers with pomegranate seeds, toasted pumpkin seeds and some of the Walnut Brown Ale Sauce