Most of the components for pasteles, a traditional Puerto Rican holiday dish, can be made a day or two in advance, then brought to room temperature for assembly. You can prepare the masa ahead, and freeze it for up to several months. Pasteles can also be cooked right away, refrigerated for a few days or frozen in zip-top containers for several months. Some use only green bananas or green plantains – which are unripe, firm and very green – for the masa; some add potatoes or pumpkin; some add yuca, also known as cassava, and others use only yuca. If you can’t find one or more ingredients, use what you can find. Lucy Ramirez adds pork gravy to the masa (other cooks may add milk or oil) and makes sure there’s a little pork in every bite of the pastel. Traditionally, pasteles were fully wrapped in banana or plantain leaves before being wrapped in parchment paper or foil. Today, many cooks use a piece or strip of banana leaf to give each pastel the nutty flavor of the leaf. Serve them with a side of hot sauce or ketchup. Click here to learn how to assemble the pasteles.
- Serves: 36 persons
- 3small ajicitos or aji dulce chiles, seeded
- ⅓large green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
- ½large red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1small yellow onion, roughly chopped
- ¼cup packed, stemmed culantro or chandon beni, roughly chopped
- ¼cup stemmed cilantro, roughly chopped
- 3ounces (about 25) peeled garlic cloves
- ¼cup drained jarred or canned pimientos
- 8pounds (about 3 bunches) green (unripe) bananas
- 2green (unripe) plantains
- 2pounds yautia, scrubbed and cleaned
- 7-to-8-pound boneless pork shoulder or butt (or 2 smaller pieces)
- ¾cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1packet (about 1 teaspoon) Sazón Goya with Achiote and Culantro
- 11-ounce jar green olives with pimentos, with their brine
- 2cups tomato sauce
- 2to 4 cups chicken stock or water
- Salt to taste
- 2cups vegetable oil
- ¼cup annatto seeds
- 36pieces (4-by-5-inch) banana leaf (from a 1-pound package of banana leaves, wiped clean)
- 36pieces (12-by-16-inch) precut parchment paper sheets
- 68-inch pieces of kitchen or butcher’s twine
Step 1Make the sofrito: Place the chiles, bell peppers, onions, culantro, cilantro, garlic and pimentos in a blender and process until the mixture is fully puréed, scraping the sides of the blender as needed. Refrigerate until ready to use: This can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.
Step 2Make the masa: Peel the bananas and plantains: Prepare a mixing bowl or large pot with water. Cut off the ends of the fruits, then use a knife to score and peel off the skin. Place the bananas in the bowl of water as you go so they don’t discolor. (The skins can stain, so be careful as you handle them, or wear plastic gloves.) Remove the skin of the yautia with a vegetable peeler and add it to the water.
Step 3Remove the bananas, plantains and yautia from the water and process until smooth: First, in a food processor fitted with the grating disc, shred each ingredient separately, dumping them into a large bowl as you go. Mix the ingredients together in the bowl, switch to the blade fitting, and process the mixture in batches until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as necessary. The end result should look soft and fluffy like a purée. (Alternatively, you can grate everything by hand on the smallest holes of a box grater.) Transfer the masa to a large mixing bowl. At this point it can be refrigerated for a few hours, covered, while you prepare the pork, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Step 4Prepare the pork: Cut the pork into small, rough chunks about 1 inch long by 1/2 inch wide, trimming away excess tough fat as you go. Place the pork pieces in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in the reserved sofrito, making sure all of the pork cubes are coated. Let the pork cook, stirring almost constantly, until it starts to release some liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and let it cook for a minute or two, then stir in the seasoning packet.
Step 5Let the pork cook for another minute or two, then stir in the olives and their brine, the tomato sauce and the chicken stock or water, and a pinch of salt. Let the liquid come up to a simmer, then cover the pot and reduce the heat. Let the pork cook at a simmer for 30 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through, stirring occasionally. There should be plenty of liquid in the pot at all times, so the mixture looks like soup, not stew. If it looks dry, add stock or water as needed.
Step 6While the pork cooks, make the annatto oil: In a small saucepan, heat the oil and the annatto seeds over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the oil begins to bubble. Lower the heat slightly and let the seeds cook in the oil until the liquid turns a bright pink-red. Turn off the heat and let the seeds sit in the oil until it cools. Strain the oil through a sieve or slotted spoon into a small mixing bowl, discarding the seeds. Set the bowl aside. (If the liquid does not immediately begin to turn red, your annatto seeds are too old.)
Step 7When the pork is done, taste for seasoning, and add more salt if desired, then turn off the heat. Take 2 to 3 cups of the liquid from the pork and stir it into the masa until it is the consistency of thick oatmeal, soft but spreadable. You will still need about 2 to 3 cups of liquid to make the pasteles, so if your pot looks dry at this point, stir in a little water or stock so that you still have plenty of liquid, and taste for seasoning again.
Step 8On a large, clean work surface, set up your pastel-making station: You will need the banana leaves, parchment paper, string, the annatto oil, the pork and its liquid, and the masa. To make each pastel, start with a piece of parchment paper in front of you, one long side closest to you. Use a soup spoon or a pastry brush to paint a very thin smear of annatto oil on the parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch border on the top and bottom and 4 inches on the sides. (This does not have to be perfect: It’s just to keep the banana leaf from sticking.) Lay the banana leaf down on top of the oil, long side closest to you. Paint the banana leaf very lightly with the annatto oil. Spread 1/2 cup of masa on top of the banana leaf about 3/4 to 1/2 inch thick. The masa does not have to be a perfect shape: It can overlap the leaf in places and does not have to cover it completely.
Step 9Spoon a scant 1/4 cup of pork pieces along the length of the masa in a straight line. Your goal is really a line of pork chunks along the center of the masa, so that each bite of pastel has a bite of pork. Add 2 olives to the masa, one near each end. Use a spoon to drizzle on a little more liquid as needed so that most of the masa is covered by a very thin layer of liquid. Don’t overdo it: About a tablespoon or so of liquid per pastel is about right.
Step 10To form the pastel, fold the parchment paper in half, from the bottom up, over the masa and filling so the 2 long edges meet. Fold those edges down to meet the edge of the pastel farthest from you. Press the paper down and crease the top edge. Fold the parchment in half again lengthwise from the top down, so it covers the pastel. You now have a long thin pastel wrapped in a tube of parchment, with multiple layers of paper on top. (This needn't be exact, as long as the paper forms a neat little package.)
Step 11Working carefully, use the side of your hand to press and slide the masa on either side of the package into the center to give it a neat edge. Fold in 1 inch of the paper on the left and right sides to create small hems. Then fold both sides over the pastel. (If you have a few leaks, it’s O.K.)
Step 12Set this pastel aside, flaps facing downward, while you make its partner: Repeat the process above to make a second pastel.
Step 13When you have 2 pasteles, stack them together so they line up, flaps facing inward. Use 1 piece of string to tie the pasteles together the same way you would a package, looping the string once across the long way and at least once across the short way. Make sure the string is tight and the pasteles are tightly tied together. Repeat this process with the remaining pairs of pasteles. At this point they can be frozen for several months, refrigerated for a day or two, or cooked and eaten immediately.
Step 14To cook them, bring a large pot (or a few pots) of salted water to a boil and add the pasteles, either fresh or frozen, in a single layer. Let cook for 1 hour, or an hour and 10 minutes or so if they are frozen. Repeat with the remaining pasteles, then unwrap and serve right away.