Christian H Rios Salas

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If you are choosing a cook, my grandmother is the best option when it’s time to make a traditional dish. One of the typical dishes she makes is arroz al fogón. This dish is one of my favorites, especially when I have a big piece of hot turkey breast roasted en la vara next to it.

The process of cooking starts with her old, huge iron pot covered with black soot on the outside. The pot has this unique smell of old burned firewood, but it’s just on the outside. The fogón must be completely set up before you bring in the huge pot. The things that must be ready are; the firewood must be burning and the rods set in the right place. After all this, then it’s time to place the pot on the rusty and blackened rods.

The cooking process begins with gathering many different ingredients such as rice, peas, seasoning, achiote, cilantrillo, onions, olives and of course sofrito. Grandma mixes onions, sofrito, olives, and a little bit of olive oil just to mix all those flavors together. While this process is going on, I can smell that great aroma found in many Puerto Rican dishes.

After Grandma mixes the ingredients she pours some water and brings it to a boil and mixes in the other ingredients. A very typical thing that grandma always does is she takes a leaf of  plátano and puts it under the pot’s lid. It gives the food a unique typical taste, like plantain chips or mofongo. This surely adds a lot of flavor to the rice.

This next traditional dish is the most tasteful of all. My family usually calls it pavo a la vara. The process of seasoning the turkey starts three days before roasting it because you have to give it time, to let all the ingredients mix up for a tasty turkey. First of all, it has green pepper, sofrito, seasonings and some traditional family spices ready. After everything is ready, Grandma takes the turkey and makes holes all over it. These holes are filled with the aromatic seasoning mix. When the turkey is finally seasoned,   Grandma lets it rest for three days in the refrigerator. After  three days have passed, I observe that every ingredient is perfectly absorbed by the meat, and I know this it by the color of the meat. It’s a perfect mix of warm colors, because the turkey looks like a happy colorful turkey and not just a pale one.

The turkey roasts in a place that has rectangle form about 4’x6’ made with zinc sheets. In the inside of the rectangle is the burning firewood.  It gets as hot as the Sahara desert. This is because the zinc was made with the sole purpose of maintaining a high temperature inside the area where the turkey will be roasted. To constantly spin the turkey, my uncle invented a motor that keeps the pipe where the turkey is tied constantly spinning. The pipe is held by two holes in each corner of the rectangle zinc plates and on one end is the motor that constantly turns the turkey. This motor saves a lot of time. I remember when the motor didn’t exist that my uncle had to be all day spinning the turkey every ten minutes. Now the roasting process is easier.

The last and most enjoyable part of the process is seeing and smelling the aromas emerge from the roasted turkey. While the turkey roasts, I can literally devour it with my eyes.  At the moment when the turkey begins to brown, I perceive how delicious it looks. Then I see the juice that emerges from the brown and moist turkey skin. One by one the drops of juice falls on the firewood making a sizzling sound of the juice. I can literally smell the aromatic smoke that emerges from the South Pole. It’s such a satisfying aroma that it makes me want a piece of that juicy turkey. It’s an amazing process and the results are just more incredible. The result of all this hard work is the best and most delicious roasted turkey ever.



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