Yesterday we were invited out to Oxtapacab to celebrate Day of the Dead with the lady who cleans our house and her familia. Unfortunately, we had other plans and were unable to make the hour-long trip out there this time.
This morning when she and her daughter arrived to clean, which they do once a week, they brought a little pot of pavo en relleno negro with them, and a stack of handmade, homemade tortillas.
If you have never had a handmade tortilla, then you’ve never really had a tortilla. The tortillas that arrived this morning, still hot, wrapped in a handkerchief and in a plastic bag, are thicker and tastier than the store-bought or machine-made kind. They are about the size of a Mayan lady’s hand, and they are patted down from a round ball of masa, or corn meal. Then they are laid on the grill, which in this case (we know from past experience) is the top of a fifty-gallon drum. They are cooked to perfection, which is just slightly toasted, and then usually dropped into a hollow gourd which keeps them warm. Eaten with a little bit of salt or a little bit of butter, or dipped into something, they are rich and chewy and delicious.
Pavo en relleno negro is probably unlike anything you’ve ever tasted or seen. It is turkey and polenta-like corn dumplings in a relleno negro sauce. The relleno negro sauce is, of course, the key. It is made from a number of ingredients (we’re not cooks so we don’t really know them all) the most important of which is burnt chiles de arbol. They are burnt black and then crushed up into the sauce. So when you eat this delicious souplike stew, it looks like you are eating turkey in motor oil.
We must admit, it’s hard to put that spoon in your mouth the first time… Now it’s a favorite. If you come to the Yucatan, be sure to try it!