As in so many homes in our rapidly diversifying Long Island, in my house Thanksgiving looks sort of the same as the Norman Rockwell version and sort of different. My parents are from Aruba and Puerto Rico, so there are often beans and rice where tradition calls for (ugh) candied yams. If we have them, there might be pasteles (plaintain tamales wrapped in banana leaves) along with the corn bread. There is a pork loin, just because there always has to be pork. There are Brussels sprouts, sautéed Spanish-style with vinegar. And while there is always a turkey, it will talk to your taste buds with a very different accent.
Puerto Rico may not be the first place you think of when the quintessentially American holiday of Thanksgiving comes around, but the Caribbean island has been part of the U.S. since the Spanish-American War of 1898. So Thanksgiving has been enthusiastically celebrated there for a long time.
The turkey, however, has undergone a bit of a transformation. Anyone who has tried lechón (spit-roasted suckling pig) or pernil (roast pork shoulder) is familiar with the heady mix of oregano and garlic that seasons the meat to juicy succulence. Going back about 20 years, the same enterprising folks who made lechón to order got the idea of lechónizing turkeys to sell too. And it worked. Today pavochón (pavo is turkey in Spanish) is eaten not just at Thanksgiving, but year-round. And so, at my Long Island house this year, the farm-raised, free-range, locally raised all-American turkey will have a decidedly Latin flavor. And it will taste like home.
My pavochón and gravy recipe is here.