The dish includes beef that is boiled in water and sour orange juice until it is tender enough to shred with a fork. Tomatoes, onions, peppers, and achiote flavor the stew, and corn tortilla dough is added to thicken the stew. My understanding is that the stew should have a consistency similar to polenta as result of the corn tortilla dough added to the dish. I read several accounts stating that cornmeal is often used in place of tortilla dough. I opted to make my version with cornmeal, but I don’t think my dish reached the proper consistency. I kept adding water in hopes of “plumping” the cornmeal, but somehow it never soaked in enough to be creamy. Instead, my version was gritty. I think the root of my problem is that someone more familiar with Nicaraguan cuisine would’ve known that the direction to “substitute cornmeal” meant to substitute the finer ground masa harina, not regular cornmeal. If I try to make the dish again, I will actually make some tortilla dough to attempt a more authentic result. On a positive note, the flavor of the stew was delicious. I was surprised at how well the flavor of the sour orange paired with beef. All in all, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but I definitely need to work on it.
|nacatamales cooking |
in a pot of boiling water
The dough is made with masa harina, lard, sour orange juice, and broth (I used chicken broth). I found a broad assortment of recipes for the dough. The simple recipes included instructions to make the dough and let it rest for thirty minutes. The more complicated instructions included a process of cooking the cornmeal in water and orange juice over low heat, rinsing it with cold water, placing it in fresh water and resting it for three days with daily water changes. Even though the latter option presented a few more steps, I decided to try it because it “seemed” authentic and I thought the longer rest time would result in a stronger flavor.
Upon reading lists of ingredients used in nacatamale fillings, I immediately recognized that the genesis of this dish must have been a cook looking to transform leftovers into a new dish. The filling includes mashed potatoes, cooked rice, and pork. For the mashed potatoes and cooked rice, I planned ahead when I was making them earlier in the week and made extra. For the pork, most recipes called for “cubes” of pork butt, so I braised a pork butt earlier in the week and refrigerated it so that it would be firm enough to cut into cubes. On the day that I assembled the nacatamales, I sautéed bell peppers, onions, garlic, achiote, tomatoes, fresh mint, and fresh parsley until the vegetables were tender. Then, I mixed in the pork, potatoes, and rice.
Although I enjoyed all of the week’s dishes, none compared to the nacatamales. If I learned nothing else, I learned that this dish presents the best reincarnation for leftovers I ever imagined! Fortunately, I did learn much more, and I ended the week with a newfound respect and understanding of Nicaraguan cuisine.