Christmas makes you potty!

By Emma Newbery December 11, 2014

The Bogotá Post gets its hands dirty and find out how to roast a turkey without an oven.

The puddles just outside Paloquemao were filled with a kind of sludge that I suspected – but had no wish to confirm – was made up of rotting vegetables, rotting flowers, fishy/meaty juices and residue. So I was cursing fairly strongly by the time the third car had covered me in gunk as I stood, weighed down by my purchases, in a downpour that my Russian friend would describe as raining cats, dogs and elephants.

The reason I was stuck in the rain being gunked was that as resident chef of The Bogota Post, I’d been volunteered to attempt to cook a turkey without using an oven. Given that so many ovens here are simply surrogate cupboards and are often either unusably small, or simply unusable, it seemed a worthwhile endeavour. Even if my partner in turkey-ing had sensibly looked at the weather and told me he’d meet me later.

My first stop was of course the internet, either a mine or a minefield of useful advice on any topic.

Christmas is always a time of year when I start to question the sanity of humanity. My plunge into YouTube induced the usual questions and more as I delved into an astonishing land of things that people film themselves doing with turkeys. Not even those things. But really, what kind of a person leaves their large clean kitchen, digs a hole in the ground, balances a turkey on a stick, covers it in a metal dustbin (garbage can for our American readers) and then dons welding gloves to pile burning hot coals over the bin?

A mad person is who. Several hours later, I at last found two people with sensible and achievable options. Even if the one I’d chosen to follow had decided to name his turkey Princess Puffy Muffin.

Stage 1: Watch the video

Even if you have internet on your phone, I would recommend watching the video several times and taking notes/drawing diagrams. By my third viewing, I’d got over my irritation both at the guy who felt the need to dance with his turkey and the fact that Bogota doesn’t have 100 yen stores where you can buy neat little gadgets.

You will need:

Flower pot with lid: 12,000 pesos, Pan: 20,000 pesos, Wire rack: 3,000 pesos, Metal grill: free with other purchases

Terracotta Flowerpot
Terracotta Lid (the one on youtube had a hole in the top, mine did not)
Metal bowl/saucepan that fits inside your flowerpot
Wire rack(s)
Can of beer
Turkey (we used a chicken)

You do not need:

“Pop up” timer: these are common in some countries, and pop when the meat is cooked. We followed the old fashioned skewer method – Meat thermometer.

Useful but not essential:

Wire cutters/pliers
Aluminium foil

Stage 2: Go shopping

The good news is that you can get everything you need in Paloquemao. Or other markets – 20 de Julio is also worth a visit. If you don’t want to brave the market, try Homecenter, and get your turkey from a supermarket or butcher. Make sure you leave time to defrost the turkey.

Paloquemao is a proper working market – it’s busy, it’s dirty, it’s fun. Don’t take valuables, and be prepared to dodge fast moving crates of raw meat, go hugga mugga with fierce old ladies intent on their shopping, barter, banter and bargain. While you are there, stock up on chillies, spices and groceries, get your weeks’ veggies and soak up the atmosphere.

As with all market food, it’s a good idea to give everything a proper wash before you start cooking.

Useful vocabulary:

Flowerpot – maceta
Lid – tapa
Hole – hueco
Oven – horno
Turkey – pavo
Wire Rack – estante de alambre

Stage 3: Defrost your turkey

We didn’t have time to do this and so bought a chicken instead. Depending on the size of your bird, it can take 3 or 4 days to defrost in the fridge. Last year I did it in a day and a half by leaving the turkey in a bucket of cold water in my shower. It’s quicker than a fridge, but you need to keep changing the water and it’s clearly not ideal to have a turkey in the shower. It is possible to defrost in a microwave, but you risk starting to cook the outside while the inside is still frozen.

What’s the big deal about defrosting? Basically, if the bird is still frozen when you start to cook it, it will not cook all the way through and the bacteria that cause food poisoning will not be killed.Similarly, the reason you can’t simply thaw your turkey at room temperature is because it ends up with the outside of the bird being warm enough to breed bacteria while the inside is still frozen.  Make sure to check inside the cavity for ice and try to stick a knife into the thickest part of the bird to make sure it is not frozen. Once defrosted, you cannot re-freeze it.

Stage 4: Prepare your turkey

cooking a turkey without an oven

The video calls for a ‘Beer can chicken holder’, which unsurprisingly was not on sale at the market. So we bent a wire rack into the shape needed so that it would support the beer can when inserted into the chicken’s behind.

Cover the bird generously in olive oil. Rub seasoning over the inside and outside. We made our own from chilli powder, paprika, salt and other herbs. Be aware that ‘seasoning salt’ is a misnomer: it is needs to be a lot more seasoning than salt, otherwise the final sauce will be inedible.

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Drink a little beer from the can, stand it in your wire rack and insert into the bird. It should stand up.

Stage 5: Assemble your ‘oven’

Place the metal bowl/pan in the bottom of the flower pot. Put the grate inside the bowl to create space between the bottom of the chicken and the pan. Experiment with the positioning – we found we didn’t need the extra grate since our wire rack held the beer can and chicken off the bottom of the pan all at once.

Pour a cup of water into the bowl. Place the chicken in the centre – make sure that it is not touching the sides. Cover with a lid.

Stage 6: Cook it!

The Youtube instructions said to start at a very low heat and gradually increase so that you don’t break the pot. My stove clearly doesn’t go low enough: after 15 minutes, a loud crack resounded through the kitchen. But it didn’t seem to affect the cooking: we wrapped it in tin foil and tied it with string to keep the heat in and hold it together in case of further breaks. I’ve since been advised by Colombian friends that the big black pottery cooking pots are more heat resistant and turkey-sized ones can be found.

Another alternative would be to soak the flowerpot in water prior to heating to minimise cracking.

Our chicken took around 3 hours. A turkey will take 4-6 hours, depending on its size. Insert a knife or skewer into the thickest part of the bird. If the juices run clear, it is cooked.

Lift it out and remove the beer can. Carve and serve.

Our verdict:

It worked! The meat was moist and cooked through. The beer produced a decent gravy and it didn’t seem to matter that the pot had cracked. If you only have a small oven, by cooking the turkey on the stove, you’d leave oven space for plenty of roast potatoes and stuffing. But 4-6 hours is a long time to have half the stove occupied on Christmas day.

In the end, the total cost of the flower pot ‘oven’ came in at about $35,000 COP. Obviously it is always risky to buy cheap/second hand electronic goods, but a quick hunt on Mercado Libre shows mini ovens from $90,000-400,000 COP and halogen ovens from $70,000-350,000 COP. If you are only going to cook one roast dinner this year, then try the flower pot. If you plan to do more, perhaps it’s worth risking the cheap electrics.