The Perfect Holiday Turkey

Turkey is quite possibly the most delicious main dish of the holiday kitchen. In the United States, it is consumed year-round in sandwiches and other preparations and it reaches a higher status at the Thanksgiving table.

In Guatemala, turkey is the key ingredient of Kack Ik, a Mayan stew from the region of Coban, and of festive meals during the year-end celebrations.

The Perfect Holiday Turkey

Christmas Eve (December 24) is more important than Christmas Day (December 25) in Guatemala. On Christmas Eve, Guatemalans await the birth of baby Jesus at midnight. Throughout the day of December 24, family and friends have short gatherings at their homes to eat and drink and to deliver presents, blessings, and best wishes to their relatives and close friends. Everyone returns home before midnight to spend this special time with their loved ones.

As soon as the clock marks midnight, everyone rushes to hug each other and say, “Feliz Navidad!”. Neighborhoods erupt with joy as people light fireworks in the streets nonstop for about an hour. The fireworks create a loud, smelly environment, and a smoky haze lingers for hours afterward. Dogs bark or hide. You may wonder about safety. Surprisingly, the incidents that make it to the news as a result of a firecracker going astray into a home, factory, or store, are few.

The Perfect Holiday Turkey

Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

Guatemalans dine on any one or a combination of foods immediately after midnight. This is a very intimate time for family, during which peace and love reign. People exchange gifts and best wishes right after dinner. On Christmas Day, they continue celebrating by visiting other family and friends. Firecrackers start again at noon and are repeated again on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It is such a deeply ingrained tradition, that it seems that everyone is following an atomic clock to start at the right time.

The foods include Tamales Navideños (Christmas Tamales with red sauce and pork or turkey); Tamales Negros (sweet Christmas tamales with mole sauce garnished with almonds, raisins and prunes and can contain turkey, chicken or pork); Pavo Navideño (Guatemalan holiday roasted turkey); Ponche de Frutas (fresh pineapple and dried fruits hot holiday punch spiked with rum for the adults); and uvas, manzanas y nueces (red grapes, Washington apples, and a variety of nuts in the shell). This is the only time of the year these latter items are purchased by almost every home in Guatemala City.

The Perfect Holiday Turkey

Christmas Tamales

For a Guatemalan style holiday celebration, it would be appropriate to choose any combination of the foods above. I choose Guatemalan Holiday Roasted Turkey because it is delicious and super easy to make. After all, turkey (aka pavo, chumpe, chompipe or chunto) is a classic food as is it native to the Americas, readily available and reasonable in price, especially during the holidays.

Here is a recipe to spice up your menu. ¡Felices Fiestas de Fin de Año!


Guatemalan Holiday Roasted Turkey
By Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard (

The Perfect Holiday TurkeyServes 8 to 10 people

  • One 10 to 12-pound turkey, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground achiote (or use fresh paste if available)
  • 3 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoon guaque (guajillo) chile powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Rub the turkey with the oil and all of the spices and salt and pepper.

Transfer the turkey to the oven and roast it until done (3 to 3-1/2 hours), or when a meat thermometer reads 165˚F. Because of carryover heat, the turkey will continue to cook outside of the oven. Its internal temperature will rise about 10F, bringing it to the proper and safe temperature of 175˚F. If you wait until the thermometer reads 175˚F to take the turkey out of the oven, it will be overcooked and possibly dry.

Serve the turkey with stuffing on the side and drizzle both with the cooking juices. Pair with your favorite Guatemalan or personal favorites.

The Perfect Holiday Turkey

Achiote (dry and powdered)

Amalia’s Note
I prefer not to stuff turkeys before cooking them because this increases the cooking time and tends to dry out the meat.

For a deeper marinade, rub the turkey with the spices 2-3 days before cooking day. Increase the intensity of the spices according to your taste. Carefully lift the skin over the breast and rub spices in between the top and under the skin.

REVUE magazine article by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard 

Amalias kitchen GuatemalaAmalia Moreno-Damgaard is an award-winning bestselling chef author born and raised in Guatemala City currently living in the Twin Cities. She provides individuals and companies with a taste and understanding of Latin cultures through healthy gourmet cuisine education, consulting, bilingual speaking and writing and fun culinary experiences.

Her cookbook “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen-Gourmet Cuisine With A Cultural Flair” has won 9 international awards.

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