Illyanna Maisonet’s Puerto Rican Spatchcocked Pavochon
Pavochon, a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving favorite, is a dish that represents the best of “Spanglish creations,” as recipe creator Illyanna Maisonet calls them. Combining the flavors of traditional holiday Puerto Rican lechón – whole-roasted suckling pig – with the Thanksgiving centerpiece, turkey – pavo in Spanish – is where this dish gets its name.
Illyanna is a Puerto Rican food writer and chef whose first cookbook, Diasporican: A Puerto Rican Cookbook, is a beautiful look at the food that’s grown out of the Puerto Rican diaspora, including pavochon. As the nation’s first Puerto Rican food columnist, she cares deeply about documenting and preserving the island’s cuisine.
While roasted pigs marinated in oregano, sazón, and citrus are a holiday tradition in Puerto Rico, the introduction of turkey to the table is “definitely North American, one of the few favorable things that came out of colonialism,” Illyanna wrote for Bon Appetit.
Illyanna grew up eating a version of pavochon that her Nana made. The fusion of the two dishes adds flavor to the turkey – “there’s no such thing as bland in a Puerto Rican household” – and is admittedly a little easier compared to cooking an entire hog on a spit. Olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, adobo and sazón get rubbed on the inside and the outside of the skin, making sure there’s deliciousness in every nook and cranny well before the meat is slow roasted with direct flame.
If you’re new to Puerto Rican flavors, adobo and sazón are spice blends that are often used. Both vary slightly from family to family and brand to brand, but there are a few common staples. In adobo, expect to find a combination of garlic, black pepper, oregano, turmeric and cumin, whereas sazón includes coriander, cumin, achiote, oregano and pepper. Illyanna has her own blends at Burlap & Barrel that are available online, and if you’re shopping at your local grocery store, we recommend Goya blends.
There are a few techniques you’ll need to master for this recipe when it comes to spatchcocking and fire maintenance. We’ve got guidance for both below, and Illyanna will walk you through the steps of how to spatchcock, a process of removing the backbone of a whole chicken so that it lays flat, resulting in a juicier turkey.
Our first tip? If you’ve got kitchen shears, grab ‘em now, and be sure to prep the night before you cook to give the marinade time to infuse flavor.
3.5 hours active
12 hours passive
15.5 hours total
One 4 to 6 pound (2 to 3 kg) turkey breast
Kitchen shears (optional) or a sharp chef’s knife
Ooni Pizza Oven
Ooni Infrared Thermometer
Meat thermometer (optional)
One 4 to 6 pound (2 to 3 kg) turkey breast, patted dry
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, quartered
3 tablespoons salt-free sazón
3 tablespoons salt-free adobo
1 tablespoon oregano (or sage, if you have it)
Salt, to taste
1 large yellow onion, halved
5 garlic cloves
2 celery stalks
Create and clear a large workspace to spatchcock the turkey. Place the turkey breast-side down on your cutting board with the backbone facing toward you and grab your kitchen shears.
Tip: Using kitchen shears makes this task a lot more manageable, but you can also use a sharp chef’s knife.
Place the tip of the shears or knife at the top of one side of the spine and cut or slice down the side of the backbone. Cut through the ribs and down the spine until you reach the end of the turkey breast. Repeat the same cut on the other side to release the backbone completely. Remove the backbone and the wishbone, a V-shaped bone at the top of the breast.
Slice through the center until you’ve gone as far as you can. Flip the turkey over so it is breast side up, then press hard on the breastbone to flatten the ribcage as much as you can. You want it to lay flat so that all parts cook evenly.
Illy tip: Press hella hard. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Using your fingers, gently separate the skin from the breast meat, keeping the skin connected to the meat but opening up a cavity between the skin and meat. Rub the turkey all over with olive oil and lemon juice (reserve the lemon skins). Repeat this process with your seasoning mix of sazón, adobo, sage and salt. Make sure to cover both on top of and underneath the skin with your marinade.
Let sit in the fridge overnight.
The next day, place the turkey breast on a sheet tray that will fit in your Ooni oven. Place the onion, garlic, lemon skins and celery stalks on the sheet tray, followed by your turkey. Set aside while you bring your oven up to 500°F (260°C), checking the temperature with an infrared thermometer.
Roast your turkey breast, uncovered, until the crust gets golden brown. This should take between 10 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it throughout the cook.
The temperature of the oven will naturally decrease once you put the turkey in (even without adjusting the wood or gas). If the temperature doesn’t drop as much as you’d like – shoot for 360 to 400°F (180 to 205°C) – simply remove the turkey from the oven, wrap it in foil and put it back in the oven.
Tip: Your oven will fluctuate in temperature over a long bake. Don’t worry about maintaining an exact temperature. If cooking with wood, keep an eye on the flames and temperature of your oven, adding thin pieces of hardwood and lumpwood charcoal to the fuel tray throughout the bake to maintain a temperature in the range of 360 to 400°F (180 to 205°C). Lumpwood charcoal is a great base as it will keep a stable temperature longer than wood.
Roast for 1 to 2 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breasts registers 155 to 160°F (68 to 71°C).
Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing. The temperature should increase to 165°F (74°C) during the resting of the turkey.
Carve, serve and ¡buen provecho!