jueves, 8 de marzo de 2012

Nicaraguan Tamales

It's been a long time coming. Not just this blog post, but me reconnecting with my roots. You see, my dad is Nicaraguan. The Nicaraguan Revolution exploded as soon as he left to study medicine here in Mexico, so he decided to stay once he met my mom.

Back -way fucking back- when I was a kid, there was a community of nicaraguan ex-pats in my hometown that got together every December 8th to Celebrate the Immaculate Conception, which is Nicaragua's biggest national holiday. People would gather to pray and then pig the fuck out while drinking rum and beer, and singing traditional folk songs.
That's us, on the Ometepe, about 100lbs ago
I was 8 the first time we traveled to Nicaragua. Prior to that, my dad filled my young brain with tales of a wondrous land of excitement and all that bullshit. The country itself is tiny, and back in the 80s it was still ravaged by war, in accordance with all the fucktarded latin stereotypes you can find in a Stallone movie.
The Expendables... such potential... such a waste
But amidst all the poverty, all the tragedy, I found the most amazing thing. EVERYONE SMILES, constantly. There's no TV to fuck your brain, so everyone reads. There's a poetry supplement on the local newspaper in Managua every weekend that's about half the total volume of the whole paper. Everything is an excuse to celebrate, to gather, to talk. Music booms everywhere, and nobody's shy of dancing and showing you how.
Also, Miss Nicaragua (blue headband)...
AND THE FOOD! Holy fuckballs! There's aztec, mayan and inca mixed with spanish, french and african. Mostly from Ivory Coast, I later learned. The whole experience is surreal. Walking down the street you'll find fruit stands, juice stands, hundreds of traditional confections and fried stuff that can rival a walk down a chinese market.

I eventually learned to cook pretty much everything I've eaten on my travels, except Nacatamales. Up until a few months ago, they were my Great White Buffalo. You see, Nicaragua's 50,193 sq mi are divided into 17 Departments, each of which has its own completelly different recipe for them. They're also a metric shit-ton worth of work, which is why they're mostly saved for lazy weekend breakfasts.

These are Leonese Nacatamales. I suggest you take a day to prepare all the fillings and another day to make the batter and build. Your mise-en-place is vital here, because you'll be working with raw meat in large quantities. Start by prepping your fillings. We have bird chiles, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, peppermint, capers, olives, raisins and prunes. Also, soak about 3 cups of rice in eough water to cover it completey and 2 Tbsps of achiote paste overnight.

As for the meat, nacatamales are always filled with pork. Get yourself 2.5 lbs of pork spare ribs and 5 lbs of  pork tenderloin, cut the meat in evenly-sized chunks, then marinate them in a mixture of 3 cups sour orange juice and 3 oz of achiote paste overnight.

Remember that time, waaaay back, when we used a lot of banana leaves? Well, here we go again. Only this time, you need to soften them over a flame. This makes them more manageable and also brings out a different layer of flavor. I suggest you get your ass down to this first.

Now juice enough sour (Seville) oranges to get about a gallon of juice. Blend 4 cups of juice with 3 oz of achiote paste, 2 large onions (2 cups), 5 or 6 tomatoes (3 cups) and 2 or 3 large anaheim chiles. Add to the rest of the juice and set aside

Boil and mash 4 lbs of starchy potatoes, then mix with about a cup of the previous mixture to color. Set aside.

This is corn masa. You've heard of it, I know. Get yourself 9 lbs. Add about 1/2 of the remaining orange juice mixture and 2 lbs pork lard. Mix by hand, tear your fucking rotator cuff while doing so and add the mashed potatoes. You may need to add more liquid untill you achieve the desired texture... which can only be explained by these pics. Season everything with kosher salt and move on.

Oh, the porcine goodness....

Since my guess is that banana leaves are hard to come by wherever you are, ready some aluminum foil. Now place a large banana leaf on your foil and add about 1/2 a cup of masa. Top with a little bit of everything and roll. Tuck the outer edges underneath and then wrap the whole thing in foil as neatly and tightly as possible. It must be waterproof.

The fact that there is a nonagenarian nicaraguan grandmother calmly and solemnly overseeing the whole operation speaks of its autheticity
Repeat about 72 times.

Boil for about 2 hours, then allow about 15 minutes to cool outside the boiling water before unwrapping. Alternatively, you can freeze them like this and just boil them for 3 hours straight out of the freezer.

Serve with some french bread and butter and a really strong cup of coffee for breakfast, or a really cold beer for any other time.

Printer Friendly Version: Nacatamales
Yields 68-70 servings

9lbs masa
4lbs mashed potatoes
2 lbs pork lard, melted
1 gallon sour orange juice
3 bars (90z) achiote paste
3 cups uncooked rice

2.5 lbs pork spare ribs, cut in chunks
5 lbs por tenderloin, cut in chunks

6 potatoes
6 onions
6 green bell peppers
12 (or so) large tomatoes
1 large jar olives
1 small jar capers
Bird chiles

Banana leaves
Aluminum foil
Kosher salt
  1. Marinate the pork separately overnight in some achiote paste dissolved in some sour orange juice
  2. Soak the rice overnight in enough water to cover it by 1/2 inch and 3 Tbsps achiote paste
  3. Blend 4 cups OJ with 2 large onions, 5 large tomatoes and 2 or 3 large anaheim chiles. Mix with the rest of the juice and set aside
  4. Roast the banana leaves over a flame
  5. Cut the rest of the vegetables in thick matchsticks and set aside
  6. Mix the masa, lard and mashed potatoes in a big-ass tub and add enough orange juice mixture until it has the consistency of toothpaste. Season with kosher salt.
  7. Lay a large piece of foil before you, top with a banana leaf, then laddle 1/2 cup of masa on top.
  8. Layer the fillings anyway you want inside.
  9. Roll tightly with the banana leaf, then the foil.
  10. Boil for about 2 hours, then set aside to cool slightly
  11. Un-wrap, peel, serve and be FUCKING AWESOME