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Turkey, the star of Christmas

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

The common turkey is a large bird native to North America. The domesticated turkey is the most well-known and highly-prized, although the wild turkey is also found in the US and Mexico. It was already domesticated during the Aztec empire when, almost five centuries ago, Hernán Cortés brought them aboard his ships heading to Europe and they came to be considered a delicacy, later becoming the star of the main culinary event of the year: Christmas lunch and dinner. Georges Barbarin once said, "A living turkey is stupid, but a dead one is full of intelligence".

In general, birds have always been considered an exquisite food to be saved for important events, especially for the main celebration on December 25th, when the best bird in the corral was sacrificed and hunts were organized at which, little by little, the turkey came to be the most coveted prize.

The bird and Jesus

Under its different names (initially it was called "Indian hen", and later "Jesuit", as it was commonly raised by those closest to Jesus on their farms), the turkey has become the star of Christmas dinner because it is the perfect symbol of fertility, resurrection and hope. There was even a time when the traditional Midnight Mass was known as Mass of the Hen.

Currently, on both the farm and in the corral, the turkey is no longer a symbol but, rather, a very common dish, so much so that its delicious meat can be enjoyed by anyone 365 days of the year. Different genetic innovations and rearing times have improved the breed and its reproduction, which has notably lowered its cost. The male is known as a gobbler, and the female is the hen, and turkey is low in cholesterol and fat, is easily digestible, contains B vitamins, offers a delicate and healthy meat, and is rich in minerals, especially potassium, iron and magnesium. Its meat is used in hamburgers, sausages, ham and other charcuterie, and it's also eaten roasted or braised, or cooked in a pot and stuffed, with apples, chestnuts, mushrooms, etc. It can be bought fresh or frozen, and it's always affordable.

Guajolotes from the Court of Moctezuma

Although there's still considerable controversy about its origins, the Spanish discovered the turkey at Aztec ruler Moctezuma's Court, where the delicacy was served on a daily basis. Known as guajolote in Mexico and other Central American countries, turkey was eaten and appreciated not only for its meat, but also because mythology associated it with fire.

They arrived in Europe in the 16th century and first appeared publicly in 1533 when Catherine de' Medici was betrothed to Henry II of France. The English didn't have any problem in making the "turkey" (it was given that name because they thought all exotic goods came from Turkey) the main dish at Christmas, replacing goose. In the US (the birthplace of this bird, according to Benjamin Franklin's patriotic speech), the turkey is the main protagonist of the most traditional holiday: Thanksgiving.

Although its meat is exquisite, it's important to control the heat when roasting so that it cooks evenly on both the inside and outside. Hard work and patience are required for preparing a truly delicious dish such as stuffed turkey, the star of New Year's Eve dinner, just one option for this bird, which has infinite gastronomic possibilities and was once considered a culinary symbol of the Bourgeois Revolution.


PECADO CARNAL. Fúcar, 9 (among other locations). Tel.: 911 722 207. Madrid

ISABEL MAESTRE. Pedro Muguruza, 7. Tel.: 913 596 812. Madrid

POLLOS KIKO. Murcia, 3. Tel.: 916 393 227. Las Rozas. Madrid

HERMANOS GÓMEZ. Bolivia, 9. Tel.: 914 577 986. Madrid

POLLERIA FÉLIX. Bolivia, 9. Tel.: 914 572 397. Madrid

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