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Filipino cuisine is a melting pot of influences. Many local dishes have origins tracing back to diverse cultures. Aside from food, Pinoys have also adopted a few holidays and traditions from our colonial visitors. While some, such as Christmas, are still practiced today, many have long been abandoned. One of them is the Thanksgiving turkey feast, which used to be part of the Pinoy calendar.  

Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving for over 400 years. When the United States colonized the Philippines, it was one of the traditions that they brought with them. Like the original feast centuries ago, its highlight is a feast where diners express their gratitude. Though historians contest the presence of a turkey in that spread, this festive bird has nonetheless become the centerpiece of a modern Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving didn't stick with Filipinos. However, with turkey becoming a more accessible protein, there's been renewed interest in this celebratory bird thanks to its numerous health and economical benefits.

According to a study in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, turkey isn’t just a “big chicken.” It generally contains significantly more protein and less fat. You can target it to health-conscious eaters or fitness buffs. Moreover, turkey gives you much more to stretch into dishes. Turkey legs and thighs make for great ground meat while turkey breast alone could make an excellent main course.     

Preparing and cooking turkey can be challenging, but it's not impossible. Read on to learn how you can make Thanksgiving turkey the Filipino way, according to Unilever Food Solutions’ Senior Sous Chef Brando Santos.

Chef Brando’s Economical Approach to Making Thanksgiving Turkey

Whole uncooked turkey on a roasting pan with herbs and spices

Turkey may not be part of the average Filipino diet, but this type of poultry isn’t totally new to us. Locally called “pabo,” this large bird is rarely farmed for profit. And in typical Pinoy fashion, it’s usually cooked adobo style.  

According to Chef Brando, you can make turkey more accessible to diners by serving it in parts. Instead of presenting a whole bird – the way it’s usually served at home – you can introduce it to your menu as a roasted turkey breast or glazed turkey leg. Moreover, a turkey yields about eight to nine servings, making it a more economical choice. Not only is it less daunting to the diner, but also more convenient for you and your chefs.

Chef Brando also recommends brining the meat in herbs, spices, and Knorr Chicken Powder before roasting, grilling, or even air frying. Concocting a flavorful brine is the key since turkey meat tastes blander on its own compared to other proteins.

Chef Brando says deep frying is also becoming a popular way versus the usual oven-roasted method for preparing Thanksgiving turkey. First, he suggests submerging the turkey in a salt bath to seal moisture. Keep the bird in a plastic container or bag for 24 hours for the best results. Then, pat it dry and coat with a Knorr Aromat All Purpose Seasoning Powder and flour mixture before deep frying. 

Before you get cooking, keep this essential tip from Chef Brando in mind:

“There’s specific equipment for deep frying a turkey, using a pot full of oil and a thermometer. The challenge is making sure it’s moist and fully cooked, so the thermometer is used to check if it’s fully cooked inside. The brining process is really important because it helps retain moisture and impart flavor into the turkey breast part.”

Turning A Western Classic Into a Pinoy Style Thanksgiving Turkey  

A plate stacked with roast turkey slices, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potato, and greens

Traditional roasted Thanksgiving turkey features an American taste profile. However, adjusting its flavors to fit the Filipino palate can be easy. Follow Chef Brando’s suggestions.   

  • Marinade – Make it more Filipino by integrating local flavors. For readily available ingredients, try making a base using Knorr Chicken Powder, Knorr Liquid Seasoning, ginger, onions, lemongrass, and black peppercorns.
  • Cooking – Once you complete the brining process, pat your bird dry to encourage crispier skin and then roast it. Heighten the flavors by adding a glaze halfway through the roasting process. To create a glaze, combine Knorr Liquid Seasoning, oyster sauce, sugar, and water. Any remaining glaze can be served as a sauce on the side.
  • Aside from roasting, Chef Brando suggests that ihaw (the grilling method usually done with dishes like lechon manok) works well, too.  

Pro Tips for Nailing Your First Thanksgiving Turkey

A professional chef is seasoning a whole turkey on a wooden chopping board

Don’t let the size of the bird intimidate you! With these cooking tips from our resident USF expert, cooking Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have to be a daunting feat:

  • Have the right tools and equipment for your turkey recipe. For example, if you intend to roast the bird the traditional way, you must prepare your oven and roasting pan.
  • Use a thermometer to monitor cooking and a deep pot to submerge the meat fully. Your pot should be able to accommodate the entire turkey, with enough room left for oil. 
  • Don’t skimp on the carving tools. Opt for a quality carving knife and fork, so you can serve clean slices and cut through the meat without losing any juices.
  • Practice before the big celebration. If you’re planning to serve roast turkey for Thanksgiving or any other occasion, leave no room for error. A turkey is meant to be an impressive feast centerpiece, no matter what fun Thanksgiving recipes you follow. Turkey mishaps happen to even the most seasoned cooks, so smooth out any bumps in the process by practicing beforehand.

Making Turkey the Next Big Celebration Item

A closeup photo of chef serving half-cut grilled turkey breast sandwich

Unlike beef, turkey has a lower saturated fat content, making it a healthier protein. It’s a severely underrated bird, which, according to Chef Brando, might even be better than chicken. Including turkey in your menu adds a fun twist to the standard celebration fare. But if you’re worried about wasting this precious protein, Chef Brando suggests repurposing leftovers, just like you would with chicken. Some of his go-to recipes for scraps include turkey salad, turkey sandwiches, or as an addition to pasta.  

Just like traditional Filipino lechon, you can prepare Thanksgiving turkey in countless ways. Other than using local flavors, play around with sides and stuffing. You can try Filipino staples like sweet or garlicky longganisa, kesong puti, and day-old pandesal in your stuffing. Local ingredients like kangkong can replace collard greens, while binatog can add a unique twist to the corn element. Roasted turkey may be synonymous with Thanksgiving, but feel free to serve it on any occasion. Noche Buena turkey, anyone?