Note to reader: As you can tell I am still really far behind on my posts. My apologies.
Thanksgiving will always hold a special place in my heart. However, facing the gargantuan exertion of cooking this kind of feast on a boat terrified me to my core. Let’s be real, it is virtually impossible for me to cook the whole traditional kit and kaboodle in my little galley. Whenever faced with an impossible task, I rely on my instincts. My instincts told me a single clear message, “Why cook a traditional Thanksgiving? You’re in Mexico. Cook Mexican food!” Given the reality of my oven, roasting a hefty turkey is virtually impossible.
So I decide to cook one of my favorite dishes, from my favorite Mexican restaurant back home. Yucatasia remains the most precious little gem in the mission district. In a neighborhood engorged with run of the mill taquerias and burrito joints, Yucatasia provides an edge none of them can counter. Their menu focuses entirely on the regional cuisine of the Yucatan peninsula. Let me tell you, after being in Mexico for a while now, I still believe this is one of the most authentic experiences you can get in San Francisco. One of my favorite dishes on the menu is Relleno Negro. One the menu the dish is described as a spicy black bean stewed turkey meat; however, upon researching recipes I discovered there were no black beans in the dish. Moreover, the dish as a whole appeared incredibly different from the yummy stewed meat a top crispy fried salbutes I ate while sitting at little formica tables.
At this point, two paths lay before me. One the one hand, I can follow the recipe and attempt to make a traditional Relleno Negro, though I have apparently never tasted the dish before. Option two, just do it up. After miniscule deliberation, I follow my instincts and make Relleno Meg-ro.
But before I could cook Relleno Meg-ro, I had to find Recardo Negro. As I understand it, Recado Negro is a black paste made from a puree of burnt dried chilies and spices. Daniel and I arrived at the Mega to provision for Thanksgiving. As is the case with every year, my existence began to morph into a giant ball of stress and what would be high blood pressure if I were twenty years older. The Mega is like a Mexican Walmart or Target, except more grocery store than everything else. In San Jose Del Cabo, the place appeared out of the desert as a mirage of convenience access to every conceivable good imagine. Of course, convenience only comes to the weary sailor when it is the least necessary. Much to my dismay, I walked through the sliding doors of the Mega in La Paz. The beginning felt right. Before my eyes lay a giant air conditioned warehouse waiting to be explored and discovered. But as I searched through the poorly organized shelves of packaged goods, I sunk deeper into this dismal reality.
My shoulders began to sag to the floor when I realized I would be walking out of the store with only half of what I needed. Given Daniel’s Spanish is far better than mine, I asked him to ask a store clerk where the Recado Negro was, thus beginning an onslaught of dazed eyes and confused faces and repetitive questions. One employee after another, it became almost something of a spectacle. Daniel asked, “Hola, buenas dias, tienes el recado negro?”
“Recado negro?” They responded looking as though I had just asked for the molecular breakdown of serotonin.
“Si, recado negro.”
“Oi, oui,” the man enlisted the assistance of another store employee. “Sabes lo que es recado negro.”
And again that same dazed look washed over his face as if he had just ripped a bong for the first time. “No, no lo sé.” Given two store employees had not only no clue where the item in question may be located, but had not even the slightest hint of an idea what we were talking about. Shortly, six more gentlemen were attempting to assist us with this seemingly impossible endeavor. I left the store defeated.
I guess I’d have to make my own recado negro from scratch. Balls! Thus begins a day of hacking up the smoke from burning dried chiles in a boat with an ever growing bee population. I won’t sugar coat it. Making recado negro is a complete pain in the ass, especially in an enclosed space like the galley of a boat. As you burn the chilies a thick spicy smoke will emanate from the pan causing your eyes to water and throat to itch and choke. However, the ends do justify the means. As least, it does in this case. Once beyond the choking smoke, you find a final product so rich with flavor. A deep spice fills the air creating a cross between a Peruvian chile farm, western saloon, and grandma’s house.
Thus began a truly flavorful Thanksgiving. In our company was Dan from Kinipōpō and Dan and Michelle from Moon Na Ma Na, with whom I had swam around the pristine waters of Espiritu Santo. Shawn from Que Sera and Jose from Carthago joined us after their girlfriends had returned the states for the holiday. We were a very full boat. We began with cocktails and fried plantains in the cockpit. Then moved onto the main course. Instead of dry roasted turkey breast, we feasted on all dark turkey meat stewed in a rich blend of pureed black beans, smoky burnt chiles and grandma spices. And then we continued to drink. Bottle after bottle of delicious wine. After dessert, my father and Daniel were thoroughly pooped out on turkey coma. So the party moved over to Que Sera, where we continued to rage. Properly intoxicated, I decided I was going to sing opera for my also drunken compatriots. When they stopped listening after about ten seconds, I continued to sing opera with only myself as audience. Both Dan’s off in the corner smoking cigars, tapping off the ash all over the teak decks. Michelle was chatting with everyone else, maintaining her vivacious frivolity. Still singing, I drifted off into a deep sleep, grateful for the friends I had managed to surround myself.
Relleno Meg-Ro (Turkey Stewed in Black Bean Burnt Chile)
2 kilos of turkey leg
¼ c recado negro
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 head of garlic, peels and smashed
1 – 16 oz can refried black beans
2 c chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 400° and roast the onions, tomatoes and garlic for about 10-15 minutes or until it starts to smell really good. Puree the vegetables. Throw is in the pressure cooker with the rest of the ingredients, except the turkey legs. Bring mixture to a boil. Add one turkey leg. Lock pressure cooker lid into place following your manufacturer instructions. Bring to HIGH pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 25 minutes. Quick release pressure and remove lid directing the steam away from you. Do not open the pressure cooker while it is still under pressure. Transfer turkey to a cutting board. Remove the meat and discard the bones. Once the turkey has cooled, shred the meat into bite sized pieces. Repeat this process with the remaining turkey legs. Once all the turkey meat is cooked and shredded, return the meat to the braising liquid and serve with pickled onions, cabbage, avocado, etc. Bon appétit!
30 chile de arbol
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
5 whole allspice
5 whole cloves
¼ c fresh oregano, no stems roughly chopped
2 tbsp, fresh tarragon, no stems roughly chopped
2-4 tbsp white vinegar
In a skillet over high heat, char the arbol chiles until black on all sides, about 5 minutes. In a blender, blend the charred chiles with the coarse salt, cumin, allspice, cloves, garlic and herbs. Add a little vinegar and blend until a paste forms.