Kitchener-Waterloo·Sounds of the Season

Salvadoran sandwich packs a punch for the holidays: Andrew Coppolino

Denis Hernandez, head chef at Kitchener’s Swine and Vine restaurant, shares his recipe for panes con pavo, which in El Salvador is a traditional sandwich for special celebrations — including the holiday season. The dish uses low-cost food items, but with a few spices, really packs a punch.

'This is something for Christmas, for birthdays, for any celebration,' says chef Denis Hernandez

Chef Denis Hernandez, left, and sous chef Dan Kuczynski, showed food columnist Andrew Coppolino how to make panes con pavo, a simple but flavourful sandwich. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

The dish is "panes con pavo," and in El Salvador it's a traditional sandwich for special celebrations such as the holiday season, according to Denis Hernandez, head chef at Kitchener's Swine and Vine restaurant.

"It's bread with turkey," says Hernandez, of Waterloo. "It's a simple and delicious sandwich prepared for family gatherings and special moments."

Hernandez demonstrated how to make panes con pollo — the chicken variation of the sandwich — for CBC's Sounds of the Season campaign that supports The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. Each year, a local chef shares a low-cost food dish.

The dish, though relatively simple, is a comfort-food favourite, Hernandez says. 

"It goes across all provinces in El Salvador. In our family, this is something for Christmas, for birthdays, for any celebration. Once we know our aunt is making it, that's where we go," Hernandez said with a laugh.

Many of the ingredients needed to prepare it will likely be in your pantry at home (it's also on the Swine and Vine menu the week of Dec. 14).

How to make it

Hernandez demonstrated how to make the chicken sandwich with a breast and a leg, seasoned with salt and pepper and resting on a bed of carrots, celery and onions; it's roasted in the oven for about 45 minutes.

A key ingredient is basic mustard, which you first slather on the poultry as a flavour base.

"It really contributes to the sauce. We use plain old yellow mustard. In El Salvador, there are no fancy mustards," Hernandez says.   

As for the sauce, that has some distinctive Central American ingredients such as achiote powder, oregano, bay leaf, pumpkin seeds, guaco (or guajillo chile) and cumin.

The easiest way to get that combination of spices? Hernandez says head to a local Central American grocer such as America Latina on Victoria Street in Kitchener.

"There's a packaged mix you can buy called relajo. It's got bay leaves, guaco pepper, peanuts, cumin but also achiote. It's very nutty and earthy and adds a great flavour."

To start the sauce, the first step Hernandez does is to toast the relajo mix gently in a pan.

"The aroma will be beautiful, so you'll know when they are done," he says. The toasted spices are then added to a blender for a thorough buzz along with Roma tomatoes, green and red pepper, celery, garlic and onions. 

A splendid sandwich

The cooked poultry is shredded like pulled pork — "not too chunky and not too thin," Hernandez says — and is returned to the cooked pan juices to absorb even more flavour.

To build the sandwich, Hernandez slathers some mayo on a good sturdy bun, adds some meat and layers of watercress, leaf lettuce, thin radish slices and cucumber.

The result is a splendid sandwich with the slight tang of mustard and a dusky, earthy roasted chicken flavour tinged with achiote. The texture contrast comes from the soft, moist poultry against the crisp and crunchy vegetables held together by a sturdy bun.

Simple, yes, but entirely worthy of seasonal celebrations, Hernandez affirms.

"Food in El Salvador is simple," he says. "It's made to feed a large family and needs to be inexpensive, but it has to be delicious too."

Other traditional foods you will see on the table during holidays, Hernandez says, include "pupusas, for sure. Breakfast, lunch and dinner," said Hernandez. "At Christmas, one thing we also eat a lot of is soup — sopa de res, sopa de pollo, sopa de pavo. And definitely a lot of sweets, especially a bread pudding called budin that's more moist than bread puddings here."

It certainly is that. To which Hernandez adds, "Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo!"

Paves con pollo/paves con pavo

Denis Hernandez, Swine and Vine restaurant, Kitchener

Panes con pavo is a popular traditional Salvadoran sandwich prepared with roasted turkey or chicken and a sauce. (Andrew Coppolino)

Serves 8 to 10


Chicken or turkey, about 4-lbs.

Yellow mustard

10 Portuguese-style buns

For the sauce

½ pack relajo

1 can whole tomatoes

1 small green pepper

1 small red pepper

1 stock celery

½ white onion

3 cloves garlic

1 cup tomato juice

Salt and pepper to taste

For the garnish


Green leaf lettuce

Radish slices

Cucumber slices




Pre-heat oven to 350 F (175 C).

Rub poultry with mustard, to taste, and season generously with salt and pepper. Bake for about 45 minutes.

In the meantime, gently toast the relajo spice mixture in a dry frying pan being careful not to burn it. Add the toasted relajo to a blender with the tomatoes, peppers, celery, onion and garlic (except the cup of tomato juice) and blend until smooth.

Pull the meat from the poultry, shred it and return it to the pan of cooked juices. Pour the relajo sauce and the cup of tomato juice over the poultry and return it to the oven to cook for 30 minutes.

Allow the chicken to cool slightly and build pave con pollo (or pavo) sandwiches with the garnishes.


Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

CBC-KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino is author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press). He is the 2022 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewcoppolino.


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