Recipe: Tamales with achiote-roast pork (tamale de cochinita pibil)

1.5h prep
4h cook

There’s a reason the food of Central America is so beloved throughout the rest of the world. Rich, earthy flavours are contrasted with bright, acidic notes, often served with moreish flatbreads and other corn-based delights.

These tamales exemplify the comforting-yet-invigorating properties of Mexican food: a centre of earthy-but-bright achiote and citrus-marinated pork concealed within a beautiful, surprisingly light parcel of masa flour and pork fat. Elevated with a little pickled red onion, and a hit of your favourite hot sauce or mole, they might require a little prep work, but these delicious corn husk-wrapped parcels are worth the effort.

To make your shopping easier, we’ve put together a recipe kit gathering the specialty ingredients you’ll need to create these stunning tamales: masa flour, corn husks, achiote paste and aromatic Mexican oregano. Simply add meat and a few other larder staples, then follow the included recipe (also published below) to pull together this umami-rich dish that will transport you to Central America with a single bite.

Ingredients

Serves 10 tamales
FOR THE COCHINITA PIBIL:
750g pork scotch (pork neck)
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 orange
30g achiote paste View
1 tsp whole black peppercorns View
1/2 tsp cumin seeds View
1/2 tsp ground allspice View
2 cloves garlic
4 tsp Mexican oregano View
1 tsp salt
1 whole cinnamon quill View
2 bay leaves
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
FOR THE TAMALES:
2 cups white masa flour View
160mL lard (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
10 dried corn husks View
FOR THE ONIONS:
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Juice of one lime
1/2 tsp salt

Begin this recipe the day before. Dry roast the cumin seeds and peppercorns in a pan, then transfer to a food processor with the achiote paste, allspice garlic, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp Mexican oregano, lemon juice, orange juice and juice of one lime. Blitz until smooth, then rub the marinade into the meat and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

The next morning, preheat your oven to 150C. Place the meat and any excess marinade into a roasting tray, add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and remaining 2 tsp oregano, then cover with a sheet of baking paper and seal tightly with two sheets of foil (alternatively, use a heavy-lidded cast iron pot). Roast for 3 hours, or until meat pulls apart easily. Leave to cool for an hour, then break meat into small pieces and stir in the pan juices and red onion. Season to taste, then set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 red onion with the juice of the second lime and ½ tsp salt. Leave to pickle for at least an hour.

Prepare the corn husks by soaking them in warm water for an hour.

To make the tamale dough, whip the lard and 1 tablespoon of stock in a stand mixer until fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and beat until the mix resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Slowly add the remaining stock, and beat until everything comes together into a sticky dough (add more masa if too wet or more stock if too dry).

Lay out a soaked corn husk on your bench, ensuring the edges curl up toward you. Smear roughly 1/4 cup of the dough onto the top half of the husk, using a small piece of plastic wrap to push it down until it forms a 5mm thick disk.

Remove the plastic wrap and spoon a heaped tablespoon of the achiote pork into the centre of the dough disc. Roll over the left side of the corn wrapper, ensuring the dough folds halfway over the meat. Repeat with the right side, then use a finger to seal the dough around the meat.

Tear a thin strip off one side of the corn husk, then roll the corn husk tightly around the dough parcel. Fold up the bottom of the husk, and tie with the strip you tore off earlier.

Place, open side-up, into a deep steamer. Repeat with remaining dough, then cover and steam for 45 minutes. Serve warm with pickled onions and coriander leaves.

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