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Authentic Puerto Rican Pasteles

There are basically two types of pasteles recipes. The more "authentic" ones use yucca root. The ones made with masa are for efforts in cutting down prep time. They are good, also, but the ones made with yucca are the most authentic for the Caribbean areas.  In Puerto Rican cooking, the term masa can be loosely translated into starch mixture. Masa is applied to different types of flour, cornmeal, dough, batters, and pastes made of starches.

It's a good idea to break down the whole procedure into two days: grate the 'masa' the day before you want to actually prepare the pasteles, then do the rest the following day.

You need to strain the white milky liquid from the yucca, and the easiest way of doing this is to let the grated yucca sit in a cheesecloth or fine strainer (over a bowl, covered) overnight, in the refrigerator. Breaking the work into two days makes it a little easier. If you need to do it all in one day, it can be done, but you'll need to squeeze the milky water from the grated yucca.

 

FILLING:

  • 2 pounds boneless lean pork meat (picnic shoulder or cali)
  • 2 ounces of sofrito
  • 1 small beef broth cube
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp oregano
  • 1 ½ cups of water
  • 2 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
  • 28 small green olives (stuffed with pimientos), cut in half from top to bottom
  • 2 Tbsp capers Optional: garbanzos (chick peas), raisins

 

ACHIOTE:

  • 6 Tbsp achiote seeds (annato)
  • 1 ½ cups of vegetable oil

MASA ('dough'):

  • 3 ½ - 4 pounds of yucca (sometimes spelled yucca, and also known as cassava)
  • 1 cup of sofrito
  • 1 small beef broth cube
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp oregano
  • 2 ounces of water


WRAPPING
: Parchment paper (at least 20 sheets - 12" x 17"); Butcher's string; Plantain leaves (if available)

 

DAY 1: (All you'll need on Day 1 is the yucca, the achiote, and the oil for the achiote)

Achiote oil: In a saucepan, gently simmer achiote seeds in oil until oil turns dark red. Remove from heat. Let cool. Strain seeds from oil and discard seeds. Keep cooled oil in a covered jar or other container. You can leave it out, or refrigerate it. You will use this oil in the "Masa", in the filling, and for wrapping the pasteles. (on Day 2)

Masa: Peel waxy skin off yucca with a vegetable peeler or small knife. The inside should look snow white, and be firm to hard. Cut into pieces about the size of a stick of butter. Cut each piece lengthwise to reveal a woody stalk in center, roughly the width of a toothpick. Cut it out by making a 'V' cut, and discard.

Using a hand grater is a workout and hard on fingers!  Use a food processor with the grating blade.  Feed pieces a few at a time.   Remove grated yucca from processor, switch from grating blade to regular cutting blade, return yucca to the machine and pulse for about 2 - 3 minutes to create a moist, finely grated mixture that is the consistency of grated parmesan cheese- just a little wetter.  Place into a strainer lined with a cheesecloth. (If you have a very fine strainer, you don't need cheesecloth). Place strainer over a bowl to let yucca drip. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until next day.  Note that we only used first ingredient (the yucca) for the masa on day 1!

DAY 2:

Remove the masa from the refigerator. It will have dripped several ounces of its liquid in the bowl- discard the liquid.

Filling: Wash pork with vinegar. Cut meat into ½ inch cubes (about the size of a small broth cube), trying to use only the non-fatty meat for this dish (you don't want any surprises when you eat a pastel !)

In a saucepan, use 2 ounces of the achiote oil that you prepared, and simmer the 2 ounces of sofrito in it on low heat for 3 -5 minutes.  Add remaining filling ingredients except last 3 ingredients: olive oil, olives and capers to saucepan, bring to a boil, lower flame.  Simmer for approximately 1 - 1½ hours on low heat, covered. Do not let water evaporate- if sauce gets too thick, add a couple ounces of water.  The meat should be cooked, but it should not fall apart when done, so check every 15 minutes once an hour has passed.

When meat is done, remove from heat and let cool. You should have some gravy left with the meat, but it shouldn't be too watery. If it looks dry, add 2 ounces water. Now add olive oil. Adding now keeps its delicate flavor! You can always use regular olive oil, but extra virgin has more flavor.

While the meat is simmering, you can start seasoning the masa, but be sure and go back to the previous step to finish up the meat!

Season masa:  In a medium saucepan, on medium heat, use 2 ounces of prepared achiote oil, and simmer 1 cup of sofrito in it for approximately 5 minutes. It should be sizzling slowly, not just steaming a little.  Add 2 ounces of water and the rest of the ingredients listed (except the masa!). Simmer another 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

In a large saucepan, bowl, or tray, add the masa that you had removed from the regrigerator. Now add the sofrito that you just removed from the heat, and mix well.  Add a half cup of the achiote oil to this, and mix again. Your masa should now have some color, and should have a good taste!

Wrap pasteles:  Use twenty bundles of plantain leaves. They should be long and wide. (You may use the parchment paper instead, or use the plantain leaf within a sheet of parchment paper.)  If you can get the plantain leaf, do use it! It adds a world of a difference in taste to your pasteles!

With a knife, remove the central ridge of the plantain leaves to give greater flexibility to the leaves. Divide leaves into pieces, about 12 inches square. Wash and clean leaves with a damp cloth and toast slightly over an open flame (stove burner on low). This makes the leaf more pliable.

You should still have about ½ cup of achiote oil left. Place 1 tsp of the achiote on the leaf, or the parchment paper. Spread it out to the size of a postcard (4" x 5"). Next, place 3 Tbsp of the masa on the leaf (or paper) and spread it out thinly over the oil that you just spread out.

Place 1 ½ - 2 Tbsp of the meat filling in the center of the masa. Place 2 olive halves on top of the masa. Place 2 capers on top of the masa.  Some people add a couple of raisins, or a couple of garbanzos, or a strip of red peppers, or a dash of hot sauce, or all of the above! It's your preference.

Fold leaf (or paper, or leaf on top of paper) one long half over towards other. It won't actually get to the other end, but you have created a top and bottom layer of plantain leaf and enclosed the contents in it.  Now fold both of those back towards the end that you first started from (making the crease at the far edge of the masa inside), while keeping in mind that you are sort of duplicating the shape of the rectangle of oil that you first made!  Fold it once more, if you need to use up some paper. Then fold the right and left ends of the leaf toward the center.

Tie the pasteles together in pairs (or alone), with a string, placing the folded edges facing each other. They should be tied from both sides, to prevent them from opening.

Cook pasteles:  In large pot, bring to a boil 5 qts of water with 1 Tbsp salt. Add 12 pasteles and boil, covered, for one hour. Halfway, turn over pasteles. After the hour, remove pasteles from the water at once, and place in a strainer.

This recipe yields approximately 12 -14 pasteles.

Contributor: Joe Kirkpatrick