So…, this was interesting. This was scary. This was exciting. This was rewarding.
I love tamales, particularly the Mexican and, of course, the Panamanian versions; I just never tried making either. The task seems daunting and too tedious to get involved. But then, I love a challenge and I was ready to take this one on. I started with the ones from Panama ‘cuz, well. You know. That’s where I’m from.
Tamales are usual fare for any celebration, Christmas, NYE, weddings, parties. In Panama, they come in a variety of sizes, but most commonly they are large enough to make it a full meal. They’re made of corn, filled with chicken, pork and more recently, seafood. Ours are different in that they are cooked in a leaf from a plant called bijao. Don’t ask me what else it produces, because I have no clue. But the leaves look a lot like bananas leaves, however the taste is quite different. You know what’s sad? I don’t remember what they taste like. That’s depressing.
Unfortunately, the leaves aren’t available stateside, so I had to improvise and replace them with foil paper. I don’t much enjoy the taste banana leaves impart on food, which is why I didn’t use those. I also forgot to get prunes, but we will survive. I promise you. You know what I found out once I made this? It ISN’T as tedious as I thought it would be, nor was it all that time-consuming.
Are you ready? Here goes nothing–well, something amazing, but that’s not the saying. Y’know what I’m sayin’? This recipe will yield about 20-25 tamales, and they will freeze quite well.
4 lbs pork short ribs
1 pkt Sazón
2 onions, chopped
1 large can tomatoes, diced
4 culantro leaves OR 1/2 cp cilantro, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps sea salt
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1 bottle beer
1 tsp habanero sauce (optional)
12 oz pitted prunes, about 25
1-1/2 cp seedless raisins
1 cp pitted olives
about 1/4 cp capers
1/2 cp roasted red pepper (pimentos), sliced
Aluminum foil cut into pieces about 6 inches wide
Now for the method; Although I’ve listed all the ingredients together, I will break down the process for the different components: preparing the hominy, then the pork, and putting it all together.
Corn time, baby!
Rinse the hominy and put it in a large pan, add the 2 tsps salt and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature and cook for about 2 hours or until the grains are tender. Once it is done cooking, strain and rinse the hominy. Allow it to cool. Once the corn cools, you will need to run it through a grinder using the finest setting. I’m not sure if using a food processor would work, but it might do the job just fine.
For the piggy part.
While the corn cooks, prepare the pork. Cut it into 2-inch cubes and season it with salt and black pepper. Heat a medium-sized pan and add about 1 tbsp vegetable oil and brown the pork pieces and set aside. After browning the pork, add the onions, garlic and culantro and cook until the onions are softened. Then add the tomatoes, paste, oregano, Sazon make sure to remove the drippings stuck at the bottom of the pan. Add the pork back to the pan, then the beer and enough water to cover. Bring it to a boil, put a lid over it and lower temperature to a simmer; allow it to cook for about 45 minutes or until the pork is very tender.
Time to put it all together.
First off, pour yourself a glass of wine, preferably red. First, you’ll need to season the corn dough or masa. After you grind it, add the pork fat, the Sazon packets and about 2 cps of the juices from the pork, don’t be shy about the onion pieces falling in. Knead all of this very well, you want to make sure it is evenly distributed. The masa’s consistency should be soft, but not runny.
The pork, it should be chunky, but not too large, so break it apart a bit and keep some of the pan sauce. Line up the raisins, prunes, pimentos, olives and capers.
Take a sheet of foil, spread about 1/3 cp or so of the masa over 2/3s of the sheet. Put a few pieces of pork close to one of the ends of the masa, put a couple of olives, capers, a prune and a few raisins. Now fold over the foil so that the rest of the masa covers the filling. Fold the foil like an envelope: first fold the top once, then the sides. Make sure to flatten the foil, you want it to be a tight seal.
Fill a large stock pot with water, drop 2 bay leaves and 3 cloves of garlic–no need to peel them. I did this because I don’t have the bijao leaves which add flavor to the tamales. This way the water will have its own flavor and will not just draw it out from the tamales. Bring the water to a soft boil and drop the tamales in one by one. Allow them to cook for 1 hour.
Remove the tamales from the water, lay them upside down to allow any water that might have seeped through to drain out. Remove the tamales from the foil packets and serve.