It’s official! We commenced the holiday season’s festivities today at Casa Daisy by making 100 Pasteles de Hoja (click for December 2006 recipe), which will be shared by friends and family, starting next Thursday, on Thanksgiving Day. The fact that my mom and dad were on hand to help, made things much easier on me, not to mention how great it was to spend time in the kitchen with them again!
For anyone familiar with this process, you know that it’s a herculean effort, similar to the Mexican “tamalada”, where family members come together in the kitchen to get the task done. We started out in the kitchen quite early, 8:30 AM, with everyone fitting right into their usual roles: Mami at the stove preparing the meats and the broth from the pork bones, and Papi, peeling the viandas (root vegetables, plantains, green bananas and calabaza).
Papi found this great little machine he brought back from Puerto Rico that makes small business out of grating the vianda. This cuts down the work time by 80%, because depending on how many pasteles you plan on making, you can spend the major part of the day grating vianda on a box grater, and using a food processor is not an option.
Once all the vianda has been grated, Mami seasons the puree with broth from the bones and from the poached meat, along with achiote oil, seasoning and milk, until it resembles a loose batter.
Now we’re ready for construction. First Mami lays a banana leaf onto a piece of parchment paper and paints it with achiote oil. This serves to flavor, as well as to prevent the pastel from sticking.
She measures a ladleful of “masa” (vianda batter), onto the banana leaf and with the back of the ladle forms a groove down the center.
This groove will happily accommodate the cubed pork, some olives and a hot pepper (this is the “Crackerjack” surprise in the pastel)!
Once this is done, she folds the batter over itself to cover the meat mixture, and then folds the pastel up in the banana leaf and parchment.
This is the part where Papi really shines. For as long as I can remember, I have memories of Papi sitting at the head of the table, tying the pasteles into rectangular packets of two, with kitchen string, his FDNY captain’s ring flashing. Here is a step by step guide to tying a perfect “llunta” of pasteles.
Lay the llunta over the kitchen string like so:
Flip the llunta over and tie like so:
Flip it over, once again to make the final tie.
The finished llunta should look just like this:
The llunta of pasteles is now ready to be poached in boiling salted water for about an hour.
As labor intensive as this is, it truly is one of Puerto Rico’s favorite foods, and certainly one that is a must on every holiday table. In addition to that, it is the perfect opportunity to get the family into the kitchen, and come together over a real labor of love, and share some of the inevitable hilarity that occurs when you spend time in the kitchen with people you love.
The finished product with its traditional accompaniment of arroz con gandules.