Brined Turkey Cooked in Salsa de Chile Colorado (Gluten-Free)


The idea for this turkey recipe came to me last year (2012) between returning from a conference in Las Vegas and flying out for a wedding in Phoenix the day after Thanksgiving. Everyone was talking about brining the holiday turkey, but as I researched the “how to” of it, most of the recipes called for putting a huge container in the refrigerator.  Will your turkey fit in your tamale pot? Will your steamer stand in your fridge? Well, unless you have an extra refrigerator in the garage or a professional grade double wide model, how could that be done?

Once I figured out that brining is simple, and the container can be an extra large plastic zip bag, my brain became fixated on chile colorado. Wouldn’t that bird be fine cooked in a red chile sauce? I imagined the succulent flavor so realistically, I knew I had to be on to something wonderful.

As it turned out, the meat came out so tender, I vowed to make my turkey this way from that moment on. Now, making a homemade chile sauce may seem daunting, but I will guide you through the process step-by-step. I suggest making the chile colorado sauce a day or two before the holiday, and brining the turkey for at least 12 hours.



What you use to brine a turkey is truly up to you. There are many brine recipes available online and in magazines, but the classic brine involves dissolving equal parts of  kosher salt and sugar in approximately 2 gallons of water. I have heard of adding bourbon, apple cider, vegetable broth, orange peels, orange juice, lemon juice, soy sauce and even maple syrup to the brine.

Since I am not a fan of white sugar, I replaced it with 2 melted piloncillos, which have the subtle molasses-like flavor built in. Other than that, my brine is simple.

Brine Ingredients:

2 gallons cold water

1 1/2 cup of Kosher salt (1 cup table salt)

2 piloncillos melted in 1 cup of water

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp. ground sage

2 tsp. thyme

2 tsp. rosemary

2 bay leaves

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. Mexican oregano

2 tsp. allspice

and if I’m feeling adventurous…

1 bottle dry champagne


Brining Instructions:

1. Wash the turkey and remove the innards.

2. Place the turkey in the container you will use for brining. I used a turkey roasting bag, but extra large plastic zip bags, buckets and large kettles can also be used if your refrigerator permits. Some people use coolers packed with bags of ice, but in order to do this, you must be prepared to maintain the temperature below 40° at all times.

3. Dissolve the salt and piloncillo in 2 cups of boiling water. Let cool.

4. Using a large pot to hold the brining mixture, pour the dissolved salt and piloncillo into the 2 gallons of cold water. Add the spices (and champagne if desired) and mix well.

5. This step requires two people. Place the turkey standing upright in a brining bag, roasting bag. Have one person hold the bag open while the other pours the brine over the turkey, making sure some of the liquid goes inside of the cavity.

6. Secure the bag carefully, making sure it won’t drip. Place the brining bag in a roasting pan, and place the pan in the refrigerator.

7. Turn the bag over several times during the 12 hour brining period to ensure even distribution of the brine.

Notes: Brined poultry cooks faster, so use a meat thermometer inserted correctly into the turkey to make sure you don’t overcook your bird.

Don’t salt a brined turkey before cooking it. It’s been soaking in enough salt already.


While making a red chile sauce can seem a bit labor intensive, it really isn’t that difficult of a task.  I like to use a variety of dried chiles such as guajillos, anchos (also called pasilla) and New Mexico chiles to give the sauce a more interesting flavor. Adding a chipotle will kick up the complexity level even more.

If you are not used to handling chiles or if you wear contacts, you may want to consider wearing gloves while touching them. Otherwise, if you forget and rub your eyes, you may wind up with a burning sensation that feels like it will never stop. Visit our step-by-step pictorial to guide you as you make the sauce.


Red Chile Sauce Ingredients:

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

16 medium dried chilies (a mixture of guajillo, New Mexico, ancho and possibly chipotle)

1/2 sweet onion

1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

3 2/3 cups poultry (chicken or turkey) broth

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt (or more to brighten the flavor)

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (or more, to cut the bitterness)

Red Chile Sauce Instructions:

1. Set a comal or ungreased heavy skillet over medium heat. Lay the unpeeled garlic cloves on the hot surface and roast to a sweet and mellow doneness. Turn the cloves occasionally until soft when pressed. A few blackened spots will appear, and garlic will be done in 10 minutes or less.  Once cooled, slip the garlic out of their skins and set aside. The peeled onion may also be roasted in this manner, but will take only a matter of minutes to roast, and must be turned to each side after a minute or two to ensure even roasting.

2. While the garlic is roasting, break the stems off the chiles. Tear the chiles open to remove the seeds. To make the mildest sauce, remove the light and stringy veins. Finish and remove garlic if you haven’t done so. Toast the chiles a few at a time on your medium-hot skillet. Slice them so they open flat, then lay them on the hot surface skin side up and press flat with a metal spatula. You will hear a faint crackling noise as the skins roast. Flip the chiles over and do the same (about 20 seconds on each side – no longer or they will burn, and burned is not good.) Their color should change to a mottled tannish brown. Transfer chiles to a bowl and cover with hot water to let rehydrate. After 30 minutes, discard the water.

3. In a blender or large food processor,  add chiles, onion, garlic, oregano, pepper and cumin, add 2/3 cup of the broth and process to a smooth puree, scraping and stirring every few seconds. (I find using a blender easier, but you may need to add a little more broth to get everything moving around).

4. With a masher, press the puree through a medium mesh strainer into a bowl.Discard skins and seeds left in the strainer.

5. Heat oil in a medium-sized pot (about 4 quarts) over medium heat.  When the oil is hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle, pour in the puree all at one time. Stir constantly for approximately 7 minutes. The puree will darken and redden to a brick color as it sears.

6. Stir in the remaining 3 cups of broth.  Cover partially and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a creamy soup, add more broth. Add salt to brighten the flavor and sugar to cut the bitterness.

Note: The sauce should keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Make sure to store it in a glass container as it will definitely and irreparably stain plastic. If you freeze the sauce, it must be boiled again once defrosted to bring it back to the proper consistency.

If you would like a hotter sauce, add some chile seeds back in to your puree. If you want it milder, make sure as many seeds and veins as possible ar removed.



Preparing the turkey is a ritual, and every family has their traditions. As I prepare my turkey, I don’t ignore what my dad taught me. I cook it in the huge black speckled roasting pan. I line the inside of the pan with foil to avoid having a huge mess to clean. I massage the meat under the skin with loads of butter. Yes, I’m adding the red chile sauce I just made to the cooking liquid, but I still cover the turkey in traditional spices, sage, thyme, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, marjoram and garlic. I will dress  the turkey as always, knowing that the stuffing that dresses the bird and absorbs all of those scrumptious juices will be the best tasting.

In order to get the skin toasty and crisp, I am going to push some of the red chile sauce under the skin. The rest, I will dissolve in the water that it will cook in. As the turkey cooks and its juices flow, I will baste the bird repeatedly to ensure that each part is juicy and flavorful. I will cook the giblets in the pan with the turkey, to add even more flavor, but I will remove them before serving. I have never liked giblets added to the gravy.


Turkey Instructions:

1. Remove the turkey from the brine. Discard the brining liquid. It is much too salty to cook the turkey in. Thoroughly rinse the turkey.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a large roaster with aluminum foil. I usually cut three long sheets, place one over each side extending to the middle, and cover across the middle of the roaster with the third sheet. Adjust the shelves in the oven to allow the turkey to clear the top of the oven.

3. Place the turkey in the roaster. Using a slightly softened stick of butter (not margarine, yuck!) massage the breast meat under the skin, leaving bits of butter to melt into the meat. Place butter wherever you can, in the cavity, in the crevices between the legs and wings, all over. Use the whole stick of butter. It’s Thanksgiving! If you are going to stuff the turkey, don’t pack the stuffing inside of the cavity. Loosely stuffing the turkey yields better results.

4. Add as much water as you can to the roaster. Fill it about 2/3rds of the way up. I love gravy and there is never enough.

5. Use a large spoon to press some red chile sauce under the skin covering the breasts. Rub the chile sauce over the surface of the turkey. If you don’t want to worry about stained hands, use gloves. Pour the remaining chile sauce into the roaster and mix with the water using a long-handled spoon.

6. Spice your turkey as you normally would, then add Mexican oregano, cumin and garlic powder.

7. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The thermometer should point towards the body, and should not touch the bone.

8. Cover the turkey loosely with a tent made of aluminum foil. Place inside the oven.

9. Baste every hour. While it isn’t necessary to baste, it will help to distribute the chile flavor to every part of the bird. Follow the directions on the wrapper of your turkey for cooking time, or follow this turkey cooking chart provided by The turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°.

10. During the last 45 minutes of cooking time, remove the foil tent to achieve browner, crispier skin.

11. Once the turkey is cooked, remove it from the roaster and place it on a turkey platter. Ladle the natural gravy infused with red chile sauce into a gravy boat for delicious flavor.

Note: I never, ever thicken my Thanksgiving gravy. Once the natural gravy is refrigerated, the fat will solidify on the top and can be removed. I never do. Like I said, it’s Thanksgiving, and how many times a year do I get to enjoy an outstanding turkey prepared like this? Not many.



My authentic Thanksgiving dinner from 2012. This is not food photography. It’s the real deal with everything delightfully homemade.




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