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Tropical Thanksgiving with… Chester?

November 28, 2009

Tradition simply means that we need to end what began well and continue what is worth continuing”

– Jose Bergamin, Spanish Writer

Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday – in large part, I think it’s mainly because my family would NEVER let me near the kitchen. I decided that this year, I was going to do Thanksgiving my way – ironically, I decided to start my own traditions in a country that is completely oblivious to Thanksgiving. I figured I’d do the traditional dishes, with a trained cook’s touch : roast turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie with whipped cream… not too difficult, right?

Um, wrong. This adventure turned out to be a major lesson in adaptation for me. I went into the market with the mindset that I would be able to find everything I needed – half an hour later, I realized I was not going to find anything I needed. With my limited knowledge of the language, I had to completely re-think the entire menu the night before Thanksgiving.

The problems:

  • There are no cranberries in Brazil. Anywhere. Frozen, dried, canned, fresh – nothing. Plan B? Gravy.
  • Turkey is incredibly expensive here. Plan B? The butcher suggested a Chester – I went for it.
  • I wanted to put  goat cheese and pecans in my stuffing… I couldn’t find either of them anywhere, and since I’m mildly allergic to walnuts, I re-thought the stuffing recipe and I ended up with Paiu, a type of sausage that is normally only used in feijoada.
  • Canned pumpkin does not exist here… good thing I thought ahead and smuggled some in from the US 🙂
  • Most of the milk and cream here is UHT Tetrapacked in boxes so it’s shelf-stable… it does not whip. It has a very bizarre taste and texture. Alex’s aunt had to run out at the last minute to a specialty store to find fresh cream, which is also very expensive here.
  • Neither of us knew how to translate “Allspice” when we were at the market – we spent 15 minutes sniffing 3 dozen spice baggies before we ended up hesitantly buying something that smelled like allspice but was called “Pimienta Siria” (Syrian Pepper). Thankfully, our noses were correct.
  • The common aluminum pie tins you see everywhere in the US for $1 are non-existent here. I ended up having to form my pie dough into a tart pan – the crimping on the edges looked really sloppy, since the tin was 4″ deep and the pie only came up half way.
  • The Oven. Like most Americans, I’m virtually retarded in metric conversions. I had to google a temperature conversion chart to figure out how to set the oven. I’m also used to electric ovens with heat from the top and the bottom… a bake setting. This oven is gas, and it doesn’t have settings. Consequently, nothing browns on the top because all the heat is on the bottom. I frantically egg-washed my exposed pie crust during the last 15 minutes of baking when I realized it still looked unappealingly raw. It turned out OK, but it’s definitely not the best I could have done.

After a lot of improvisation and totally abandoning most of my plans, I managed to come up with a decent meal. We bought a whole Chester bird and one turkey leg. I brined them overnight in water, salt, black pepper, a bunch of paprika, bay leaves, allspice, and cumin. I started them both with an under-the-skin butter rub, then an over-the-skin oil rub, followed by a little more salt and pepper. Chester was then trussed and roasted for about an hour before I added the mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrots) and a malagueta pepper to the bottom of the pan. Since I had no idea what a Chester tasted like, I pretty much basted the crap out of it, just in case it was a drier bird. Once the skin got crispy and brown (different oven, thankfully) I took Chester out to rest and sprinkled some flour over the mirepoix and let that cook until it was nice and bubbly, about 20 minutes or so.  I blended everything together, and the gravy barely needed any additional seasoning – the drippings from the brine were almost perfect.

For the stuffing, I diced the sausage and sautéed it to render the fat. I added garlic, some more mirepoix, and Chester’s insides (ssh, don’t tell my guests!) – the liver, heart, etc. – to flavor the mixture. I used two day old french bread cubes, lightly covered them with chicken stock, and tossed everything together with some chopped cashews. It turned out surprisingly good – at the last minute, I sprinkled it with a little bit of parmesan cheese to give it a nice gratin topping.

Alex’s family was all happy with dinner, so I’d consider it a success.

The Chester Bird

The Chester Bird - look at those breasts!

Out of curiosity, I did some research on the “Chester” bird today… I wanted to believe that I was buying some type of indigenous bird that was traditional for the holidays. It turns out that Chester – wait, Chester® – is a trademarked, pumped-up chicken, the result of a genetic selection project by biologists at Brazil’s second-largest food processor, Perdigao.In 1981, the company’s research and development team succeeded in breeding a chicken that concentrated 70 percent of its meat in its breast and thigh portions. The bird costs less than turkey and has more meat than a standard chicken, helping it win two-thirds of Brazil’s poultry sales during the year-end holiday season. Compared with Chester, turkey costs a third more per kilogram, takes longer to cook and produces more leftovers, which families lacking a refrigerator have no place to store safely. About 90 percent of Chester sales occur during the Christmas season and almost all are in Brazil. The bird is often cooked in a pineapple sauce and accompanied by farofa (the manioc flour dish mentioned in my feijoada post) .

I have to say – as much as I’m against genetically engineering any form of life, especially when it makes an animal so large that it can’t even walk – Chester was actually pretty darn good, especially when compared to a Tyson genetically engineered chicken. It didn’t have a weird, artificial yellow to the skin, and it actually had flavor. The bird was very moist. The texture of the meat did look slightly weird – it looked almost like a translucent white piece of meat, but it didn’t taste artificial. I have to hand it to the scientists on this one – they did a good job. However, now that I know about how it’s made and raised, I definitely won’t buy it again.

Have you ever learned something about a food you tried and liked that made you never want to buy it again? Is there any such thing that would make you swear off a product?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    February 1, 2010 2:26 am

    You should apply to be on the Food Network show “Chopped” when you get back! They give you several “mystery ingredients” in a basket and you have to produce an appetizer, entree or dessert in 20 or 30 minutes. They always seem to have at least one ingredient in the basket that either doesn’t make sense for the course involved, or is just bizarre to try and combine with the rest of the ingredients…..sometimes both! For example, in the last one I saw, they gave the 2 guys that were left 30 minutes to create a DESSERT out of the following 4 ingredients (oh, and they have to use ALL of them in their dessert, but they can add more things as well):
    ginger snaps
    cocoa nibs
    silken tofu and…….
    cherry tomatoes.

    I’ve often wondered what you might do with some of the combinations they’ve thrown at these chefs!

    • February 1, 2010 10:25 pm

      I’ve thought about it… and I know thaat if I keep traveling and learning like I am now, I’d make a really strong contestant on a show like that… who knows. Maybe if they offered a cash prize instead of just TV fame I’d consider it.

  2. Mom permalink
    February 2, 2010 2:14 am

    It IS a cash prize……$10,000! Plus who knows? Maybe you could become the “Next Food Network Star”! haha
    I can’t wait til Saturday night. They’re doing a special Iron Chef America show……Chef Duff from Ace of Cakes is taking on Michael Simon! Should be interesting!

  3. Lai permalink
    November 15, 2011 3:52 pm

    ooh I love Chester, I am from Brazil and now that I live in US I miss it so much, sure it is genetically made, but then again almost everything nowadays are. I was impressed to find fruits that are genetically mix of 2 over here in America, I wish I could find chester around here, I love the flavor and the moist! But yes, since you are in a tropical country the fruits and products you will find wont be the same as in America, and the same happens for me now, so many products I look for such as fruits and I cant find anything at all here, its tough to adapt and sure this year is the first year I will be having Ham for xmas instead of chester… just weird.. haha

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