Puerto Rican Pasteles

The pastel, a bundle of pork filling stuffed into a batter of grated root vegetables and wrapped in a banana leaf, is considered by many Puerto Ricans to be the dish most representative of their cocina criolla.

By / Photography By Dennis Ho | November 10, 2016

Instructions

For the Achiote Oil:
Place oil and achiote seeds in a medium saucepan. Gently heat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until oil turns a deep red color. Strain oil into a glass container with a lid and store in the refrigerator. Yield: 2-1/2 cups.

For the Puerto Rican Sofrito:
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Use sofrito right away or portion and store in freezer. Yield: 5 cups.

For the Pork Filling:
The day before you are going to cook the pork filling, prepare and marinate the meat. Remove bone from pork butt and trim all fat off the meat. Reserve the bone. Cut the trimmed meat into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Add sazon, adobo and 1 tablespoon salt, then stir to coat pork with seasonings. Cover and marinate overnight.

The next day, heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Add achiote oil, sofrito, tomato sauce and water. Bring to a simmer. Add pork bone and half of meat. Stir to coat with sauce. Add the remaining pork meat and stir well. Bring the meat to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium low.

Simmer, covered, for 1¼ hours, stirring occasionally. Check for seasoning and add salt to taste. Remove 4 cups of cooking broth to use for the pasteles dough. Place the meat and remaining broth in a large bowl and reserve for assembling pasteles.

For the masa (dough):
Grate plantains, mafafos and green bananas using the smallest holes of a box grater. Place grated bananas in an extra-large bowl and add evaporated milk, broth and achiote oil. Use your hands to mix thoroughly, then add the salt. Allow masa to rest for 30 minutes.

To assemble pasteles:
Using scissors, cut out the large middle vein of each banana leaf. Wipe each leaf with a wet cloth. Using a pair of tongs or your hands, pass each leaf over a hot flame until leaf changes in color and becomes shiny and pliable. Using scissors, cut banana leaves into sheets slightly smaller than the parchment paper sheets, approximately 7 by 10 inches.

Place 1 piece of parchment paper on your work surface and top with a banana leaf. Spread a teaspoon of achiote oil in center of banana leaf. Mound ⅓ cup masa on top of achiote and create a shallow dent in the center of masa. Place ¼ cup pork, 1 olive half, 2 strips roasted red bell pepper and 4 or 5 garbanzo beans in the dent you created in the masa. Working quickly, fold the parchment paper over the filling and fold in the ends to make a tight package. Tie pastel tightly with butcher’s twine. Repeat with remaining filling and masa dough.

To cook pasteles:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasteles 8 or 10 at a time, being careful not to overcrowd pot, and boil for 25 minutes. Remove pasteles with tongs, allowing water to drain off each pastel, and place on a platter. To serve, cut butcher’s twine with scissors and unwrap each pastel. Serve hot with arroz con gandules and a green salad.

 

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Ingredients

For the pork filling
  • 9½ pounds bone-in, skinless pork butt
  • 1 packet sazon seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon adobo seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 5 tablespoons achiote oil
  • 1 cup Puerto Rican sofrito
  • 3 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 6 cups water
For the masa
  • 8 green plantains
  • 4 mafafos (short, squat unripened bananas)
  • 11 green bananas
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup broth from cooking pork
  • 7 tablespoons achiote oil
  • 1½ tablespoons salt
Achiote oil
  • 20 ounces (2½ cups) canola oil
  • 2/3 cup achiote seeds (also called annatto seeds)
Puerto Rican Sofrito
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 cubanelle peppers, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • 2 bunches culantro
  • 1½ cups canola oil 3 packets sazon con achiote seasoning 1 whole roasted red bell pep
  • 3 packets sazon con achiote seasoning
  • 1 whole roasted red bell pepper from a jar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
To assemble pasteles
  • 1 bag banana leaves (about 30 large leaves)
  • 50 sheets parchment paper, approximately 9 by 12 inches each
  • 2 cups achiote oil
  • 1 recipe masa dough
  • 1 recipe pork filling
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar pimiento-stuffed olives, drained and halved lengthwise
  • 6 whole roasted red bell peppers from a jar, sliced into thin pieces
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans, drained
  • 50 lengths of butcher’s twine, approximately 36 inches each
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