Portuguese Turkey with Two Stuffings

Two beloved Portuguese dressings: a chouriço-bread dressing with spicy sausage, onions, garlic, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Another dressing with sweet sausage, potato, butter, nutmeg, and spices.

A Portuguese roast turkey with two stuffings in white bowls with a spoon resting in one of the bowls.

This is the same paprika-sprinkled turkey that I grew up with. My grandmother Costa always rubbed her poultry with salt and let it sit in the fridge for several hours prior to roasting, believing that it drew out impurities. Her ritual is similar to the koshering process, in which poultry is coated with salt and later rinsed several times. The benefit—voodoo aside—is a bird that’s juicy and richly flavorful. That’s why I insist you buy a kosher turkey.–David Leite


Portuguese Turkey with Two Stuffings

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  • 3 H
  • Serves 8
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  • For the turkey
  • One (12- to 14-pound) kosher turkey, liver reserved for the dressing
  • 1 small orange, cut into wedges
  • 1 small lemon, cut into wedges
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Turkish bay leaves
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 oz), melted
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • For the gravy (optional, seeing as it's not the Portuguese way...but so worthwhile)
  • Up to 3 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (2 oz), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For Dina's potato dressing
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1‑inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 oz), plus more if needed
  • 3/4 pound ground sweet Italian pork sausage
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Reserved turkey liver, chopped
  • 2 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
  • Healthy pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • For Avó Costa's bread dressing
  • 1/4 pound thick-sliced slab bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 pound chouriço, linguica, or dry-cured smoked Spanish chorizo, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil, if needed

  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 2/3 cup dry white wine

  • 3 tablespoons Amped-Up Red Pepper Paste
  • 2 tablespoons double-concentrate tomato paste, or three tablespoons regular store-bought or homemade tomato paste
  • 12 cups 3/4-inch (18-mm) cubes of day-old rustic bread

  • About 2 cups homemade beef stock plus 1 cup water or 3 cups store-bought low-sodium broth
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves


  • Roast the turkey
  • 1. Position a rack in the bottom of the oven and crank up the heat to 425°F (218°C).
  • 2. Remove any pin feathers from the turkey and pat the bird dry with paper towels. Rub the cavity with a wedge of orange and of lemon, season well with salt and pepper, and stuff with the remaining wedges and the bay leaves. Tuck the wing tips under the bird and tie the legs together. Mix together the melted butter, paprika, 1½ teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and brush about half of it over the turkey. Place the bird breast side down on a V-rack set in a roasting pan.
  • 3. Slip the turkey into the oven, pour 2 cups of water into the pan, and roast for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350°F (176°C), flip the bird breast side up, and brush with some of the remaining butter-paprika mixture.
  • 4. Continue roasting and brushing the turkey every 30 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°F (74°C), 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. Tent the bird with foil if browning too quickly.
  • 5. Transfer the turkey to a serving platter and let stand, tented, for 20 minutes. Although it’s not the custom in Portugal, you can make gravy (see Variação, below).
  • Make Dina’s potato dressing
  • 6. Meanwhile, plonk the potatoes into a large pot of cold water. Add 1 tablespoon salt, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander, return half to the pot, and mash well. Set the rest aside and keep warm.
  • 7. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Crumble in the ground sausage and cook, breaking up the clumps, until well browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the sausage into the pot with the mashed potatoes. Lower the heat to medium and, if the skillet is dry, add a bit more butter. Drop in the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 12 minutes. Scrape in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chopped reserved liver and sauté until browned, about 3 minutes. Scoop the mixture into the pot with the mashed potatoes.
  • 8. Whisk the yolks and milk into the potatoes until smooth; if the dressing is too thick, whisk in more milk. Place the pot over medium heat and stir to cook the yolks, about 3 minutes. Fold in the reserved potatoes, sprinkle in the nutmeg and parsley, and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
  • Make Avó Costa’s bread dressing
  • 9. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring often, until the fat has rendered and the meaty bits are crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels. Pour off all but a thin film of fat from the pot into a cup and reserve. Bump up the heat to medium-high, add the chourico, and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat, adding it to the bacon fat. If the pan is dry, add 2 tablespoons of oil.
  • 10. Lower the heat to medium, add the onions, and cook until soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute more. Splash in the wine, add the red pepper paste and tomato paste, scrape up any stuck-on bits, then let burble for a few minutes to cook the mixture.
  • 11. Turn the heat to low, add the bread and the reserved bacon and chourico fats, and pour in just enough of the stock-water combination, beating well with a spoon, to make the mixture moist. If you use all the liquid and the pot is still dry, add water as necessary. Fold in the bacon and chourico and continue beating to lighten the mixture. Take a taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Scoop the dressing into a bowl and speckle with the parsley.
  • 12. To serve, plate the turkey, scoop the dressings into decorative bowls, and take everything to the table pronto.

Gravy, Gravy, Bo Bravy

  • To make gravy, spoon the fat from the roasting pan. Set the pan over two burners and pour in enough homemade chicken stock or store-bought low sodium broth to the pan juices to equal 3 cups. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat, scraping the bottom to loosen any browned bits. Blend together 1/4 cup softened unsalted butter and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour in a small bowl to form a smooth paste. Scoop the paste into the stock, whisking constantly, until the gravy thickens and no floury taste remains, 5 to 10 minutes. Strain and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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  1. I was searching the internet for my mother’s Portuguese inspired chourico stuffing recipe. The twist I don’t see here is that she actually put the stuffing inside the turkey cavity while roasting the bird. Oh my, did it come out nice, moist, and flavorful. Can I place this bread/chourico stuffing inside the bird to cook together?? Thank you so much.

  2. This is one of the juiciest and most flavorful turkeys I’ve ever had. This year David brined the bird in a salt, brown sugar, lemon, and orange brine. As a cook who always brines chickens for at least 12, and up to 24, hours, I was surprised that he achieved the same result (and maybe, just maybe better) with a bigger bird that was brined for only 8 hours. Although you won’t get an overwhelming citrus flavor, whatever happened in the big enamel pot worked deliciously.

    The dressing. I just love Vo Costa’s dressing. It has that authentic Portuguese flavor of some of the best dishes Mamma Leite makes.

    1. Um, excuse me, love? But “just maybe”? I think my turkeys were head and shoulders (or rather neck and waddle) above your chicken. Take heed, little man, and you will become a much better cook. Take heed.

      1. Don’t you love the way holidays bring families together and loved ones closer? LOL!

        I brined a duck with a sugar-salt brine with Lapsang Souchong tea in it once. I wanted to do the slow roast, skin basting kind of treatment like Peking Duck, but in my oven. It came out pretty good — the flesh had a little halo of darker color near the skin from the tea and just a hint of smokiness. I might try that again with more tea next time. I was afraid to make it too smokey for a first try. I don’t think I’d use it for any bird that didn’t have all that fat under it’s skin, though, might really overwhelm the flavors of a chicken, for example…although a turkey just might do it. Can you imagine all that gorgeous turkey skin crackling with flavor and crispness???

        And, er, David…it’s “wattle.” ;) Once an editor, always an editor.

      2. Ah, the ghost of spellchecks past. ;) Sometimes their changes are hysterically funny, and sometimes they’re just wrong. I used to swear I was going to keep track of some of the funnier ones and publish a book. At least waddle could have something to do with a bird. Heh.

        1. And what’s worse, I think I used the dictation program on my Mac, so it might have heard wattle but wrote waddle. And I was none the wiser because I never see my typos. Just ask Renee….

          1. Oy! Dragon! I was born and raised in San Francisco and the Sonoma/Napa wine country, so, basically no accent. Yet when I try to use Dragon…well, it was an amazing thing. A letter to a friend came out being about gangs riotiing. Talk about making wild guesses. Spellchecks have nothing on Dragon. ;)

  3. I sometimes put oysters in my stuffing (dressing, actually), chopped up, often with hot Italian sausage, and I moisten it with broth. Everyone goes crazy for it. However, the one time I told people there were oysters in it, almost no one even tasted it. Wusses. ;)

    It makes a very rich and spicy side for a change. I made dressing for a goose once (someone else was cooking the goose) and did the oysters, sausage and some chopped up prunes. Great with that stronger flavored meat.

    1. Oh Ruthie, I love oyster dressing, and sausage dressing – to be perfectly honest, all almost dressings. Hurry up Thanksgiving!

  4. Happy Thanksgiving to all! I love stories like this, family and cultural tales behind the history of dishes and mealtime traditions. Sadly, we sat down to the same American Thansgiving meal year after year of turkey with Pepperidge Farm stuffing, sweet potato casserole made with orange juice and tiny marshmallows… no stories and even very few memories it was so bland. Maybe that is why I love other people’s stories so much.

      1. David, we never celebrated it here in France. In France we go French all the way, in the US we do American. But oddly enough, this year my older son asked if I would cook a Thanksgiving meal. He asked the day after the holiday and he is still waiting so I may do it next week. But they feel no connection to the whole T Day story and pilgrim thing.

  5. Hi, David. My Ávo and mom always made a turkey for Thanksgiving, although they never ate turkey growing up in Portugal because it was expensive. My Ávo would make an all-meat stuffing and STUFF it in the bird, then cook it. She would save up scraps of meat and freeze them, then pull them out for the big day and put them through a meat grinder. It was like a croquette but made into stuffing. I also remember alot of lemon–both in the stuffing and in the gravy. It was the BEST stuffing. What I wouldn’t give to have a taste of that meat stuffing again!

  6. Johnny Boy’s stuffing comes very, very close to my Avo’s and I am thrilled to have written it down! The only thing i don’t get is frying the stuffing? My Avo used to put it in the turkey and any left over was put into a baking dish. I would like to know how this stuffing could be fried and then what, put it into the turkey afterward? I don’t remember this process but as I said, I was really little.
    Thanks so much, it is a pleasure to finally be connected back with my people!

  7. Hi David, It’s funny when a stranger is writing about your own family… I think those stories exists anywhere on the globe but it’s always nice to read them.

    The part about the Kosher turkey caught my eye; there are many Portuguese Christians families who have in fact Jewish roots, they are “Converso.” It’s known that most of them consider themselves as Christians today, but are still practicing for hundreds of years, the same Jewish customs of their ancestors in food, cooking etc.

    Back to the bird…. You wrote: “The benefit…is a bird that’s juicy and richly flavorful.” Since I’m using the Kashrut rules, it’s known that meats are more tender and moist if you don’t put salt on them, because the salting dries them. We are allowed to skip the salting if we put meats on an open fire or grill. This way you get it juicy and tender, better than after the salting procedure.

    1. Abigail, thanks for writing. I’m quite aware of the Conversos. There’s a theory floating around that Portuguese folks with an object (noun) last name are actually Jews who converted to avoid persecution. For example, my last name means milk. Most of the Portuguese I grew up with–Dias (day), Oliveira (olive tree), Carvalho (horse), Flores (flowers), etc.–are possibly of Jewish heritage.

      Regarding my grandmother’s (and others’) pre-salting of meats, there seems to be a huge schism in the food/chef world on the topic. Some are for, others are vehemently against. Harold McGee, the dean of food science, is in favor of pre-salting because he says although there’s some superficial loss of moisture, the salting traps water within the cells. The net result is a tastier and moister bird. I’ll look for exactly what he says, if you’d like.

  8. Hi, David! My ávo was born in Waialua, Oahu, Hawaii in 1884. She did this for all her children at all holidays. She had five boys and three girls. Three did not make it. I’m going pass on the Portuguese stuffing recipe.

    John Peru's stuffing

    (John also shared with me his gloriously gorgeous turkey. A little Thanksgiving trivia: John’s last name, “Peru,” means turkey in Portuguese.–David)

    John Peru's turkey

    1. John, thank you for both the stuffing recipe and the picture of the bird. They look wonderful.

      I hope this encourages more people of Portuguese descent to send in their Thanksgiving (and Christmas!) stuffing recipes.

      1. Hi! David, thanks so much.. You just don’t know how I’m thankful. My ávo was Mrs. Philpmena C. Cazinha. She was the Best. It’s her and my mom, Mrs. Madeline C. Peru, that I got to cook. They never said a bad word about cooking, they just knew what to cook and just cooked their hearts out. Every Day. She did so much that’s my mom they all called her Aunty Lana…short for Madeline.

        So thank you, David.

        John M. Peru: They called me, Johnny Boy!

  9. David,

    This is all too familiar (both in the similar and familial sense) to what used to happen during Christmas Eve dinners of yore with my mother’s extended family. Mum is one of 10 siblings; we are 16 cousins. There was always much shouted conversation, happy confusion and general mayhem with up to 40 people at these dinners. The siblings would take turns every year to host the dinners, but everyone brought something to the table (the table would be two or three lined up end to end) … including three different stuffings/dressings from two sisters (Mum being one of the two) and a brother – all fiercely proud cooks. “Girl, have you had my stuffing yet?” would be the annual inevitable question from Aunt Maureen – whose stuffing was a Chinese riff on chestnut, sausage and mushroom – Chinese preserved sausage (lap cheong), dried shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts, rice wine, soy sauce.

    God help me, I could never swallow more than one spoon of Aunt Maureen’s stuffing.

    It was a context thing for me – this is CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER for goodness’ sake – not CHINESE NEW YEAR’S EVE DINNER. Her stuffing would have been great encased in seasoned glutinous rice, wrapped up in lotus leaves, and steamed until plump and fragrant. All I heard and tasted were discordant and vaguely disturbing culinary notes… I’d end up hiding the leftovers in a scrunched-up paper napkin. But that wasn’t the end of it – she’d have little foil packets of the stuffing for every family to take back home, without fail. Of course in the days that followed, Mum would reinvent the leftovers as best as she could, but I never ever saw the packet of stuffing materialise on the dinner table…

    1. Ling, it was now my time to laugh so hard I snorted. This was hysterical. We all have an Aunt Maureen, don’t we? Mine shall remain nameless…Aunt Florie. Oops.

      1. David – I was telling another aunt about what you wrote and my subsequent posting, and she said, “So you’re wondering what happened to those little foil packets that Maureen passed to your Mum? Well – she palmed them off on me! And I had to invent whole dinners for unsuspecting guests a few months down the road from Christmas just to offload that blessed stuffing!!”

        YEARS of this had been going on. Talk about civic recycling…

  10. I wonder if the tomato paste wasn’t to improve the color and acidify the dressing just a bit? I know I add just a touch to beef stock and to stuffing (as opposed to dressing) sometimes as I had been directed by my mother-in-law. I have noticed some stuffings appear sort of an ash blonde once removed from the bird. They taste fine, but aren’t very appetizing to look at.

    I grew up with oyster stuffing, a Maryland tradition, I think. I thought it was ugly and gross and wouldn’t touch it. I still haven’t tried it.

    1. Susan, my mom says that my grandmother would sometimes add paprika for color (My grandmother would put paprika in and on everything!) and that the tomato paste is for taste–both acid and sweetness.

      I can’t speak to the oyster stuffings in your family, but I made one a few years ago, and I banged my chin on the table when I fell off my chair. It was that good.

  11. All these recipes sound wonderful! Being in a Portuguese family in Hawaii and my grandparents coming from Madeira, I wonder if the bread stuffings vary from each island or mainland Portugal. My Avo’s was day old bread with tons of parsley, green onions, liver, bacon and chicken stock but I don’t remember anymore than that other than salt and pepper and no hot stuff or tomato anything. If anyone remembers this bread stuffing and has this recipe, I would be so happy if you would share it with me. A very Happy Thanksgiving to all of my people!

    Mo Hoyal

    1. Mo, your grandmother’s version sounds wonderful. But there was no sausage in there? Or pork? Was the liver from the turkey? What color was the dressing? All this might help people narrow down the possibilities. And Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

      1. There was definitely turkey or chicken livers in this stuffing and I do remember lots of parsley and green onions, bacon, probably garlic too, with broth and crusty bread, but beyond me this recipe was lost and I deeply regret it. The color was a whitish-grayish, with lots of green minced stuff and my God was this delicious! I do not remember any hot pepper or sausage but I was little also. It didn’t appear to have tomato paste either. Actually the color wasn’t so hot looking for appetizing but the taste was to die for. I am sure these stuffings vary by families and locales.

        Many years later I heard from an Auntie in California as she had found a book that stated a lot of people migrated from Israel to settle in the islands-Madeira and San Miguel, and beyond, to get away from religious/racial persecution, and adopted the language, religion and customs of the Portuguese. I do hear about using Kosher salt and brining a lot and that makes me wonder. It would would be a great thing if we could find out the truth behind this. Whatever!!! I still feel like I am Portuguese! I have the almond eyes and also the olive complexion!!!

    2. Hi Mo, here’s the recipe that my family uses: 1 yellow onion, 1 green onion, olive oil, garlic cloves, chicken/turkey gizzards, 1 bag of Pepperidge Farm herb seasoning bread, 1 lb ground turkey, 1 lb ground pork (you can use ground beef but it gets too dark), 1 pound Jimmy Dean sausage, salt, black pepper, fresh parsley leaves, beef broth and you can use the water from when you boil the gizzards. I follow the instructions David mentions above using my family ingredients. I do love the bread and wine idea from Sofia above, I may try it one day. This is very similar to David’s recipe but we don’t use any tomato sauce. I may also try it with the bacon, sounds delicious. In the meantime, I’m using my family’s recipe. I celebrate it with my husband’s family, and they are 3rd generation French/Portuguese so they do have their french stuffing but I usually cook my chouriço stuffing and bring a side dish as I can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without it….. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

      1. Sounds lovely, Rosa. It’s so interesting to see the differences and similarities between our families’ dressings (nee stuffings). And I agree with you: It just just ain’t Thanksgiving without Portuguese stuffing.

        Happy Turkey to you all.

      2. Thanks so much for the recipe, Rosa! I truly appreciate your taking the time to type this out and send it in! I do know the bacon really adds to the flavor.


  12. Hi David,

    Thanks for bringing back such great memories of our childhood holidays. I totally agree with you on how my mother would have reacted to your telling her that her French stuffing was not all that French! She would give you hell, most likely a slap to the head and then a hug.

    1. Everyone, this is my kid cousin Wayne. He was usually the one who broke immediate family rank and reached for another aunt’s food.

      And, Wayne, what I wouldn’t give to sit down with your mom–and all of the family–just one more time.

  13. Being the first generation here in the States, I fully learned to embrace the Thanksgiving tradition first by using my mother-in-law’s recipes, then by researching the true first Thanksgiving meal (where it seemed there were no turkeys; yes I went all the way to Plymouth, MA and learnt all about it). Then I finally decided to start adding my Portuguese touch to the dressing, which oddly enough is quite a bit different (learnt it from my GrandMother), where we would use three-day old peasant bread broken into pieces and soaked in 50/50 red and port wine then adding the traditional Portuguese tastes (onion, garlic, olive oil, gizzards and liver, presunto, chouriço, cilantro, parsley and piri-piri). Funny how through all generations, wether you are a 2nd, 3rd or 1st generations, some things always stay with you no matter where life takes you! Loved this piece David as all others, just thankful I read it first thing in the morning rather than after a few wine glasses at night. I would have had trouble following you, but that is the charm of your writing!

    1. I love how different your dressing is from ours. Tell me, is the dressing based upon anything in Portugal? My grandmother’s dressing is similar to some migas I had while traveling through the Alentejo.

      1. David, I have absolutely no idea as my Grandmother was known to create her own recipes. It certainly had a Portuguese flair to it, but nothing close to what I ate at other peoples’ homes. Thankfully she wrote down everything she would make hence the reason I have all of her recipes to keep some of her traditions. I can tell you though, it seemed she loved incorporating booze to just about everything she created!

  14. Dear God, what’s next, apologizing whenever the words “woman” and “kitchen” are in the same sentence? I am a woman and I think that no matter what I do, sweeping the floors or making million dollar deals, culturally it is my role to keep the family around the hearth. I find it more demeaning not being able to tell a broom from a ladle.

    1. Ha!! Well put, m’lady. And something I agree with wholeheartedly. It was more about how all the women and girls fluttered around while the men and boys simply sat there princely. Then after the meal, never a male would lift a finger to help clear or clean. It was off to the den to watch whatever game was on TV with hand firmly shoved into pants, calling out for a beer, which was delivered to them–opened.

  15. Holy cow, your Thanksgiving sounds like mine growing up. The difference was, both my grandmothers were French Canadian. One relished in her Frenchness and the other wanted to be totally “American.” They were roughly the same age but my maternal grandmother always called my other grandmother, “the old woman.”

    My “French” grandmother always made the sausage stuffing and my other grandmother made the bread stuffing. We’d sit at the table and both would glare waiting to see whose stuffing got taken first.

    I LOVED this post.

    1. Wow, it wasn’t just us, then! Sometimes you don’t realize that your experience is the farthest thing from unique until you hear from others. So, I’m dying to know: Which dressing did you dive for first?

  16. Ahh David, such familiar memories for me…. I too love the traditional Portuguese flavors at Thanksgiving–I am 50/50 French/ Portuguese growing up in New Bedford–but my Ma’s side of the family just cranked out the gortons as well as the tourtieres–I could never decide which I like better – so I ate them all!

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