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The Art of Traditional Turkey, in a Sandwich

The Art of Traditional Turkey, in a Sandwich

A special turkey recipe for this Thanksgiving

It’s that time of the year again where we all gather around and give thanks, a time to take it slow and receive the end-of-year festivities. It’s the perfect time for that delicious pan con pavo, a special Salvadoran turkey sandwich. See it as our take on the Thanksgiving turkey.

In view of Thanksgiving, we want to share these traditions and habits. Eating pan con pavo, which literally translates to “bread with turkey”, implies steps embedded in the culture that lives and breathes in El Salvador, where FOGO lump charcoal is produced. We want our readers to catch a glimpse of what can be done with your turkey this Thanksgiving. Spoiler alert: It’s all in the sauce.

The tradition

Roasted turkey is a special meal prepared typically on Christmas or New Year’s Eve, both festive and commemorative dates. On the eve of these special days, families gather and celebrate with a copious menu, prepared for all the relatives who are gathered around the table. Although celebrations carry on through the tiny, the food is the main event. That’s right, December is all about Turkey. And get-togethers, too: office Christmas parties, family reunions, Turkey dinners, and leftover lunches.

The morning-after pan con pavo is just as important as the late-night dinner. The sliced turkey meat serves for the filling of this delicious sandwich: cold leftovers on a roll, watercress, radish, pickled vegetables or curtido… A mix of flavors worth biting into! The freshness of the toppings and the contrast from the sour pickled juices enhance the lightly-spiced turkey meat, all the while powered by the sauce. A nice turkey sandwich, dripping in sauce, is something to consider if you’re looking to mix things up this Thanksgiving! Or if you’re having leftovers, this might be a good chance to try this Salvadoran recipe.

The dripping, dipping goodness

While you are trying out the recipe, try out the ways to eat it, too. Serve the turkey meat in slices, on a big platter; bread on one side, toppings on the other. The sauce placed in a sauce platter at the end will be the final touch. Watch as everyone does their self-service: choosing between white and dark meat, going easy on the toppings or all the way, and the idiosyncrasy with which Salvadorans fill their sandwich with sauce. Some even go a little further and will have a small sauce plate to dip their sandwich in. Either way, it’s commonplace to have a dripping, delicious Turkey sandwich, “Pass the sauce, please.”

The spices

While the chicken might be seasoned to perfection, the real secret is the spices that go into this recipe. It’s a mix called relajo: a combination of dehydrated spices that is used to give the finished touch to the sauce, made out of blended vegetables. The relajo spice mixture though, that is the signature taste of the Holiday season in El Salvador. It is composed of bay leaf, sesame seeds, peanuts, pepitoria, oregano, castilla pepper, chile guajillo, guaque chile. Hence the name relajo salsa, of the sauce.

Eating pan con pavo is becoming more and more frequent. It is every day more frequent in Thanksgiving dinners, and even in the country of origin, you can find it on a day different from Christmas or New Year’s. Still, whether it is the end of the year or not, it is highly associated with festivities. A special occasion, regardless the nature. Pan con pavo wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for big families, and even bigger meals, without which there wouldn’t be any leftovers to build your own Turkey Sandwich with.


    Set up your grill on high heat to start roasting your vegetables. For this recipe, we tried roasting all the tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. Cook on the grill is how vegetables taste best! It brings out the taste and gets the juices going.

    In addition, we suggest roasting the spices on a hot cast iron skillet, on the grill, to release the flavors. Heat skillet, roast chiles, pumpkin seeds, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, sesame seeds and let the magic happen. Remove once they’re golden and toasty.

    For the sauce (or salsa de relajo), use a blender to mix and purée everything together. Add 3 cups of water to liquify your turkey sauce mixture, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Use the remainder of the spice, like powdered cumin, to add flavor. You can potentially add turkey drippings, if you’ve saved some. Let it sit before serving, or warming on your stove for a final cohesive reduction.

    Prepare the servings of toppings, turkey leftovers, and bread. Prepare your sandwich, and don’t forget the sauce!

    For more ideas on what to cook this Thanksgiving, click here.

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