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The first time I ever ate Zacahuil was in a market in Panuco, Veracruz. This was back when my brothers and I used to spend the summer at my grandma’s farm. My uncle used to go to the market every Sunday, and one time, when I was about 10 years old, he took me with him. I can still remember to this day looking at all the colors of the vegetables on display, while my uncle chatted with the owner of the grocery store. As I held his hand, I used to watch all the people passing by, with everything around me filled with life and color. After we were done running errands, my uncle took me to have lunch. That was when I first saw it, the Zacahuil, a tamal as big as myself.
|Photo Courtesy of La Retama Verzcruz Blog|
A “Zacahuil” is a large tamal about 4-6 feet long and is cooked in a wood oven. It is popular in the Huastec Region, formed by the states of San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and even the State of Queretaro, where it is commonly sold on the weekends at the local markets, or cooked for weddings and other special events. The dough has a course texture, and the Zacahuil is usually filled with either pork or a mixture of pork, chicken, or turkey. The recipe for the sauce, which is made with dry peppers, varies from region to region. It is always wrapped in banana leaves or other local plant leaves. A Zacahuil is served to customers on a plate and is eaten with a spoon.
This is my own version of a Zacahuil made at home and using what we have available here in the States. If you live in a state where fresh masa is sold, use that instead; make sure to ask the vendor for course ground masa for tamales.
- 2 Lbs. Pork meat cut in cubes about 3/4-IN.
- 1/2 large white onion roasted
- 6 garlic cloves roasted
- 6 Guajillo Peppers
- 10 Ancho Peppers
- 4 Morita Peppers
- 2 Pounds Corn Dough *(See notes)
- 2 1/2 cups of lard (or vegetable oil)
- 4 Tsp. Baking Powder
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Salt to taste
- 2 large banana leaves fresh or defrosted (if using the frozen ones)
- 1 large Turkey Size oven baking bag
1. Clean and devein the dried peppers and place in a bowl with warm water. Let them soak there for about 30 minutes or until they’re soft. If you prefer to roast the peppers before placing them in warm water, do so on an ungreased skillet, like they do in some parts of Mexico.
2. Drain the peppers, reserving the water. Place the peppers, roasted onion, garlic cloves and some of the soaking water in the blender. Process until you have a smooth puree. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve if needed to obtain a uniform texture.
3. Meanwhile, mix the (Masa) corn dough with the lard, chicken broth, baking powder and 1/2 cup of the pepper sauce and beat with your hands until it resembles a thick batter (if you have a Kitchen Aid, use it to do the work for you).
4. Clean the bananas leaves with a wet paper towel and run the leaves slowly over a medium flame. The leaf will turn shiny and become soft and pliable.
5. Slowly run the banana leaves over the gas or electric stove as seen HERE to make them pliable. Cover a 9” X 13” baking dish or other rectangular oven proof dish with the leaves, leaving the excess part of the leaves draping outside the dish like flaps to cover the top part of the Zacahuil. Spread half of the prepared batter of (masa) corn dough at the bottom of the dish. After that, spread with the uncooked pork meat pieces, cover with the pepper sauce, and add the remaining half of the dough, spreading evenly. Fold the hanging banana leaves flaps, like if you were wrapping a package.
6. Now, place the whole baking dish inside the Oven Baking Bag and close. Place it in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 2 1/2 hours. The leaves will release a slight smoky flavor while baking. After this time, open the bag and check if the meat is done. The corn dough should have a golden crust in the outside areas and the inside will be a little bit soft. If it needs more baking, cover and return to the oven for a few more minutes.
When done, remove the bag and let stand for about 15-20 minutes to wait for the dough to firm up a little bit more.
The Zacahuil is served on plates that have a little piece of a fresh banana leave on them and is eaten with a spoon. Some people add pickled jalapeños and carrots.
* Prepare the (Masa) corn dough according to the package instructions mixing corn masa harina for Tamales with chicken broth or water.
** You can also add chicken cut in pieces.