Pasteles are a traditional Puerto Rican recipe served during the holidays. Every holiday season, Puerto Rican kitchens the world over are packed with Abuelas and their acolytes, all with one mission: prepare, assemble, and package enough pasteles to divvy up amongst the family. The family divvies up the pasteles into plastic bags. Then disperse to their separate homes with their packages tucked under an arm- hidden by an overcoat maybe- in the hopes that passersby don’t get a whiff of the coveted treasure in their possession. Theft of another’s pasteles is as old as time.
When far from home (meaning the island of Puerto Rico, or its largest city, New York) during the holidays, the diaspora longs for the familiarity of traditions long guarded. The “pastel-making” party is a long-honored event that marks the start of the holiday season, which runs from Thanksgiving here in the States to El Dia de los Reyes (or Epiphany) on January 6th. For every worker to take home their fair share, the pasteles must be made in large amounts. The process is a long and laborious one, comprised of many steps. It’s best to get the whole family involved. Unfortunately, since many Puerto Ricans are scattered across the world, they are often without a crew to call upon. So, we find a connection we can buy them from, or we make them ourselves. This recipe equips you to gather even non-Puerto Ricans and host your own party!
James Beard Award, here I come.
What are Pasteles?
If you’ve ever had a tamal (or Mexican tamale), you’re already familiar with the concept of a pastel. Tamales and Pasteles, however, are not the same. Pasteles are made with a masa of many different types of root vegetables instead of corn. In fact, pastel means “pie” in Spanish, but in Puerto Rico pastel means this root veggie meat-filled patty. So, kind of like a pie. My preferred mix is a masa de guineo, or a green banana paste. In addition to the green bananas, I add a small number of other roots that soften the paste.
I was taught to make pasteles by very old-school cooks. My first indoctrination into the tradition was with my mother, who insisted pasteles must be shredded by hand. I was 10 at the time, so arguing with her was unthinkable. A few bloody fingers and years later, I joined the advanced society and began shredding my vegetables with a food processor. I strongly encourage you to do the same.
The filling for pasteles is, traditionally, a quickly-stewed pork. Some folks like to jazz theirs up with chickpeas (garbanzos) or raisins. In this respect, I’m a purist. Seasoning the meat is all I care to do to the filling itself. However, in the pastel, I love to add a bit of color with roasted red pepper strips and green manzanilla olives.
Another debated topic is what to wrap the pasteles in. My husband’s Abuela Leria told me that banana leaves were the only acceptable wrappers. Abuela Leria was never wrong. A pastel wrapped in banana leaves tastes worlds apart from one that’s not. While preparing fresh banana leaves for wrapping adds more time to the prep, the payoff in flavor is well worth it.
Are there different types of Pasteles?
Yes. As I mentioned before, there are many different masas which can act as a base for your pasteles. Seems like the most common is the masa de guineo (or banana paste) that I use. Each family has its own variation, but the common factor is that the masa is mostly green, ungassed cooking bananas. Masa de yuca, or yuca paste, is another variation that people create. It’s the same concept as that of the green banana; it’s just made with a yuca paste. Masa de arroz is my least favorite. A bed of steamed rice surrounds the meat filling.
Just as there are different types of masa to wrap your filling in, there are different types of fillings. I make mine with a pork filling. Chicken or turkey can easily replace it if you have a pork-free diet. Seafood- like lobster, shrimp, crab, or conch- is becoming more popular as a filling for pasteles. The simmering time for those is reduced to 20 minutes in total. Vegetarians use vegan meat, firm tofu, or chickpeas in lieu of meat or seafood.
Finally, the wrapping: clearly, my preference is banana leaves and parchment. If you can’t find banana leaves, just the parchment will do. Avoid wax paper and foil. Both leave an aftertaste on your pasteles, which makes all your hard work for naught.
What do I need to make Pasteles de Masa?
For the masa, you need very green bananas, yautía (or you can use malanga), calabaza (or Kabocha squash), batata (boniato or white sweet potato), or a regular Russet potato, achiote (annatto) oil, ham or chicken broth, and salt to taste.
To make the pork filling, you need a bone-in pork shoulder or Boston butt, onion, garlic, sofrito, spices, olives, capers, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Later, I’ll give more details on the specific spices.
When the time comes to assemble the pasteles, think about adding strips of roasted (jarred) red peppers- make them spicy, even- as well as green olives, raisins, and/or chickpeas. For me, I prefer just the red pepper and olives. Or, keep it simple and don’t add any additional fillers.
To wrap the pasteles, you need more achiote oil, prepared or frozen banana leaves, parchment rectangles, and butcher’s twine.
And music. You always need music.
Okay! We’re ready to begin.
What cut of pork is best for Pasteles?
Remember, this will be fast and furious because we have a lot of ground to cover.
Begin this step at least 4 hours in advance (or overnight) because the meat needs to marinate before being stewed.
The best cut of pork to use for pasteles is pork butt or pork shoulder. Because we’re stewing this, you don’t want a lean cut. Instead, find a piece of meat that has the bone-in (for our ham stock), fat cap on (for sautéing later), and a good amount of marbling in the meat. Marbling is fat that’s running through the pink meat. It looks like spiderwebs of white. That fat, as the pork cooks, moistens and flavors the meat.
Situate the meat on a large cutting board and use your boning knife to, first, remove the bone from the meat. We’ll use this to create the ham stock, which will flavor our masa. Now, use your chef’s knife to separate the fat cap from the meat. You will render this in the pot before adding the rest of the meat to create the stewed pork filling. Just dice the fat and put it, and the bone, in a container in the fridge. After the meat has marinated, you will use them both.
Now, dice the pork meat into small chunks: in squares about 1/2-inch big. The top right is a bunch of silverskin and gristle that I threw away.
Do I have to use pork?
Chicken can replace the pork in this recipe if you don’t eat it. Buy bone-in chicken thighs, removing the bone and skin just as you did with the shoulder. The stock is made with them just as it is with the pork.
Turkey is another meat you can use here. As I mentioned before, seafood like shrimp, crab, conch, or lobster (if you’re a baller) can also be used in place of the pork. Because the seafood doesn’t have bones, use the shells to create the stock and use oil to sauté the veggies and meat for the filling.
What do I marinate the meat for Pasteles in?
To make the marinade, combine adobo, sazón, oregano, and black pepper together in a large mixing bowl. Because the acid we use in the marinade can react with metal bowls, use a glass or ceramic bowl instead. Plastic will also work. Add the white wine vinegar to the spices in the bowl and stir to combine. Finally, grate half a yellow onion and 6 or 7 cloves of garlic into the bowl. Mix everything together until smooth.
Add the diced meat to the bowl and toss it in the marinade to coat it thoroughly.
How long should I marinate the meat?
Since we’re all about flavor, it’s best to marinate the meat overnight. If you can’t, though, try to marinate it for at least four hours. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4-12 hours.
The marinade can be made a week in advance, but the meat shouldn’t sit in it for longer than 24 hours. After a full day in the marinade, the proteins in the pork become very tough. If you know you won’t use it in time, just freeze the meat in the marinade. The pork can be frozen for 2 months.
How do I make the filling for Pasteles de Cerdo (or pork pasteles)?
About an hour before you plan to assemble your pasteles, cook the pork filling. Because the stewing of the pork filling is hands-off towards the end, I get it started and simmer as I prepare the masa. However, this step can be done a day ahead and the cooked filling stored in the fridge.
Heat a caldero over medium-high heat. Add the diced pork from your cutting sesh to the caldero and let it heat up along with the pot. Slowly heating the fat allows it to render without burning. Once the fat has released about a tablespoon of lard, you can remove it with a slotted spoon or just leave it in the pot.
Add the sofrito to the pot with the rendered fat (or lard) and sauté for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.
How long should I cook the pork?
Because this meat comes from the shoulder, you need to leave it to do its thing to ensure it’s nice and tender come eating time.
Add the marinated pork to the pot and brown it over medium-heat heat for 8-10 minutes.
Now, stir in the tomato sauce, sliced olives, capers, and bay leaves. Bring the mixture up to a boil before reducing the temperature to low. Cover the pot and allow the meat to simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until a bit of meat you sneak tastes tender.
If you went the poultry route, you need only simmer the meat for 10-15 minutes. The seafood only needs another 10 minutes, tops.
Can I make the pork filling in advance?
Yes, this meat can go straight into the pasteles now, or you can store it for a couple of days in the fridge. It all depends on if you’re making the filling ahead or not.
If you’re making the pasteles in the next couple of days, once the meat is nice and tender, turn the stove off and leave the pork to cool for a half-hour or so. Transfer the filling to a storage container and store it in the fridge for up to two days.
Making the pasteles straight away? Leave the pork filling in the pot and save the dishes.
You can even freeze this meat now. Just cool it completely before transferring it to a freezer-safe container or storage bag. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw a day in advance and use it as instructed below.
What do I use to keep the masa for pasteles soft?
Abuela Leria taught me that the bone from the pork shoulder should never just be thrown away. “Make a broth with it!” The broth is what keeps the masa nice and fluffy instead of hard and grainy.
To make the broth:
- Grab a stockpot.
- Add to the pot the bone you cut from the pork, the other half of that onion for the filling, and a piece of cheesecloth filled with bay leaves, garlic cloves, and peppercorns.
- Tie up the bouquet garni (that’s the fancy French name for the spice packet) with some butcher’s twine.
- Tie one end of the twine to the handle of your pot and leave the bouquet inside the pot.
Fill the pot with just enough cold water to cover the bone. You don’t need more than 2 cups unless you’re making a massive batch of pasteles.
Bring the water up to a boil over medium-high heat. Don’t stir the broth as it boils. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the broth to simmer for 30 minutes. After 15-20 minutes of simmering, the broth will develop a gray, foamy scum on its surface. This is the result of the impurities from the bone and water being forced out and up. Use a wide spoon to skim the scum from the surface and deposit it into a bowl. Throw the scum away and continue simmering the broth until the 30 minute cook time has elapsed.
I find that this broth’s flavor is perfect for our tastes, but if you want a more hammy-ham broth, you can add a cube (or a teaspoon) of jamón bouillon to the broth towards the end of the cooking time.
After the broth is done, leave it to cool on the stove for ten minutes.
How long does the broth keep?
Use a ladle to pour the broth through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into mason jars. The cheesecloth traps any remaining scum, leaving you a clearer, better tasting broth. Screw the lids on and store the broth in the fridge or keep it close at hand if you’re making the pasteles right away.
The broth keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days. Freeze the broth for 3 months. Make sure your containers are freezer-safe before doing so.
What do I need to make the masa for Pasteles?
The ingredients you need to make the masa are guineos verdes (green bananas), yautía (malanga), calabaza (Kabocha squash), and batata (white sweet potato). Adobo and achiote (annatto) oil flavors and colors the masa. Our homemade ham broth will soften it and flavor it as well.
To prepare the masa itself, you need a large-capacity 14-cup food processor. But, since we need to prepare the vegetables to go into the food processor, grab a chef’s knife and a vegetable peeler.
What’s the difference between green bananas and regular bananas?
Green bananas are not the same as green plantains, and they’re not quite the same as an unripened banana from the store. Guineos verdes (gee-NAY-ohs vehr-days) are much smaller and less starchy than plantains. Unlike the slightly green, but still sweet, bananas at the grocery store, these haven’t been gassed. That means you have more time to use them before they turn yellow- if they ever turn yellow- and sweet.
There are a few methods you can employ to make peeling green bananas easier. First, on a cutting board, lop off both stem ends of the bananas. Take the tip of your paring knife and make a slit down the backs and fronts of each banana. Then pick your poison:
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Plunge the bananas in the water for 2 minutes (or until the peel turns black). Remove the bananas from the water, plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process, and then peel. I don’t care for this method because it’s one more step in the cooking process and creates more dishes. It also softens the bananas too much for my liking.
- Wrap the bananas in damp kitchen towels. Microwave them on high for 1-2 minutes, or until they start to steam. Remove them from the microwave, allow them to cool slightly, then peel. I never use this method because it stains my towels something fierce, and it cooks the bananas.
- Fill a large mixing bowl with hot saltwater. Put the bananas into the saltwater and leave them to soak while you peel and chop the other vegetables (or 20 minutes). Once the other veggies are peeled and chopped, peel the bananas. The soak softens the peel, making them easier to remove.
The bananas, once peeled, can be left whole.
What other vegetables do I add?
To add color and flavor to the masa, peel and chop a wedge of calabaza (Kabocha squash). Though calabaza means pumpkin, the two are not the same. Kabocha squash is more like acorn squash than pumpkin. So, if you can’t find the former, use the latter.
Cut the calabaza into 2-inch chunks and throw them into a fresh bowl of cold saltwater.
Yautía (malanga is a good substitute, too) helps to bind the masa and keeps it from falling apart. In a pinch, taro root is another good substitute. There are also different types of yautía. Look for yautía lila (which has a purple undertone beneath the peel) or plain, white yautía to use in your pasteles.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the yautía. Cut it into wedges, lengthwise. Yautía is slippery so take care when you cut it. Add it to the bowl with the calabaza.
I also add a batata to my pasteles. Potato of any sort- Russet, Yukon Gold, or sweet potato- will soften the masa. I add batata both for texture and to reduce the amount of achiote oil and broth I have to add towards the end. But, you can omit it if you want.
What about Plantains??
What about them?
Abuela once told me that the best way to end up with hard pasteles that the neighbors ridicule you over is to add plantains. And guess how many times she had to repeat that to me? That’s right, zero.
Plantains don’t go in pasteles unless you live in an area where green bananas are non-existent. But since every city has bananas, that’s not possible. Ask your produce manager to order a case of “ungassed bananas”. Take that case home, get to shredding, and tell your friends and family to pay you for your labor. Done and done.
Leave the plantains for tostones.
Do I need a special machine to make the masa for my Pasteles?
Nooooooooo!!! No! No. I can’t express that enough. You do not need to spend an insane amount of money to buy a particular machine to make the masa for your pasteles. I don’t care what “chefs” on YouTube are trying to tell you. You know I don’t believe in buying kitchen stuff just to buy it. I also don’t believe in purchasing equipment that only has one use.
All you need to make masa is a 14 cup food processor. At the very least, you need a grater and blender; or, just a grater. The old-school way to grind the masa was to use the grater alone or craft a grater from tin lids. Those processes require some elbow grease, though. I’m all about convenience, so the food processor is my preferred method.
First, set up your food processor with the grater blade. Turn the machine on and add the bananas and root veggies you have soaking in the saltwater. Step one is done!
How do I keep my food processor from burning out?
People think that you can’t use a food processor to make masa for pasteles because it will cause the motor to burn out. Most often, that happens because the veggies weren’t grated before being pureed. Grating the vegetables/fruits first gives the food processor a break, so it’s not overwhelmed with the mass of what you’re pureeing.
After you grate the root veggies:
- Remove the grater attachment and replace it with the blade attachment.
- Add a quarter of the shredded veggies to the food processor bowl and puree for 1-2 minutes.
- Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Puree for another 30 seconds to 1 minute.
You now have masa! No bulky, one-use wonder needed. Go you!
Scoop this batch out and continue in 1/4 batches with the remaining shredded veggies. Breaking the masa down in batches like this also reduces the stress on your processor’s motor.
What gives pasteles their color?
Pasteles have a characteristic orange glow that beckons us to them like a moth to the flame. That golden glow comes from achiote oil. .
After pureeing the masa, use a large spoon to stir the whole batch together. The masa will be smooth- free of lumps- and almost spongy: a light and airy masa equal fluffy, soft pasteles.
Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of achiote oil to the masa in the bowl. How much oil you use depends on the color you prefer your masa to be and how much liquid remains in your masa from the pureeing process. I hover right at 1/3 cup. In addition to the achiote oil, the ham broth adds more flavor and softens the masa further. Add anywhere from 1/2 cup of broth to 1 cup.
Some folks add milk to their masa. Milk also softens it. I’ve never found the need for it, but if your Abuela told you to use it, you’d better do it.
Can I make the masa for pasteles in advance?
The masa at this point is smooth and spreadable, like hummus or yogurt. Use your spoon to play around with the masa in the bowl. The spoon should leave swirls as pictured. If liquid pools at the bottom of the bowl, it’s too runny and needs another banana. Too firm? Add more ham stock.
The masa for pasteles can be made a day in advance and refrigerated in a sealed container. Don’t make it too far in advance (more than 24 hours) because the masa will start to brown.
Can I freeze the masa?
You can freeze the masa for 6 months. Prepare it as instructed and transfer it to a freezer storage bag. Freeze the masa laying flat, then stand it up in the freezer once it’s frozen solid. This saves space in the freezer.
Once you’re ready to make your pasteles, you’ll need to thaw it two days prior. One day is actually for thawing the masa. You need to drain the masa in a nut bag or cheesecloth bag for an hour on day two. This will extract excess water that may have accumulated during freezing. The masa will be liquidy without straining, and as a result, the cooked pasteles will be mushy and bland.
What kind of paper are Pasteles wrapped in?
Okay, Friend! We’re almost there. I told you this was an intensive post. Hang in there!
Pasteles are traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and parchment paper. Because banana leaves are naturally stiff, you’ll need to prepare them before using them or buy frozen banana leaves from the store. Since I prefer to keep my coins in my pocket, I save the pennies by prepping them myself.
First: remove the rigid rib on the banana leaf’s inner part with a pair of kitchen shears or scissors. Then, use the shears to snip away any brown, black, or super yellow parts of the leaf. Wrapping your pasteles in leaves that are old or too black will cause them to taste moldy.
Can I just use the banana leaves right away?
Before cutting the leaves to size, wipe them down both sides with a damp kitchen towel or paper towels. This removes dirt and foreign stuff from the leaves.
Now you need to soften the banana leaves. This, again, is why I leave them so large. It gives me more space between the fire and my hand.
Fresh banana leaves have to be wilted to make them pliable. Grab the leaf with a pair of tongs. Pass the leaf over your gas stove’s high flame, starting on end and going to the other. You will see that the leaf will “frost” over as the fire heats it. That’s the film in the leaf melting away, which is what softens the leaf. Two passes are all it should take for the leaf to become “bendy”.
Continue passing the leaves, on both sides, over the flame until all of your leaves are wilted. If you don’t have a gas or butane stove, you can use a butane torch. If you don’t have either, you need to freeze your banana leaves overnight.
Now, cut the leaves into a rectangle that measures 7 1/2-inches by 6-inches.
Can I use frozen banana leaves from the store?
If the thought of prepping the banana leaves doesn’t fill you with joy, just buy frozen banana leaves. The manufacturer does all of the hard work for you with these. Find them in the frozen section of your grocery store or in an Asian or Hispanic food market. Because they’re frozen, plan ahead and thaw them in the fridge before using them.
I can’t find banana leaves for wrapping my pasteles. Can I omit them?
Since, depending on your location, you might not have access to the banana leaves, it’s okay to leave them out. Wrap your pasteles in the parchment paper alone.
I strongly advise against wrapping your pasteles in aluminum foil. I discourage that method because aluminum foil can penetrate your food when cooked in it. Parchment paper is easily accessible these days, and it’s right by the foil in the grocery store. To wrap the pasteles you need 18 parchment sheets cut in 18-inch by 12-inch rectangles or buy pre-cut sheets of parchment paper.
Gather the supplies to assemble the Pasteles
FINALLY! We are ready to assemble our first pastel!
Gather all of the components: the pork filling, masa, banana leaves, any add-ins- I’m adding red pepper slices and olives- achiote oil, a pair of scissors, the parchment sheets, and butcher’s twine. To make things go faster, I cut all of my twine before beginning. I know this recipe makes 19 pasteles (that’s not a random number; you’ll discover that in a minute). I measure out the string to be double the length of my sheets, plus four-inches so 40-inches. That gives me more than enough slack to tie my bundles of two pasteles.
The pork filling doesn’t have to be hot, but you do want the juices from it to be runny. It adds more flavor to the pasteles.
Start by laying a banana leaf in the center of a parchment rectangle.
Spread a tablespoon of the achiote oil onto the center of a pliable banana leaf. Because the masa can become sticky during cooking, spreading oil on the leaf keeps the pasteles from sticking to it when you unwrap them.
Now take a large spoonful (about a 1/2-cup) of the masa and plop it into the center of the banana leaf. Use the spoon to spread the masa into a oval that leaves, roughly, 1″ margin of banana leaf showing.
Top the masa with a 1/4 cup of the pork filling, then spoon a tablespoon of the broth from the pork filling on to the meat. Now, I add a good deal of meat to my pasteles. I do so because I’d be mortified if someone ever said, “Los pasteles de Marta estaban ciegos,” or, “Marta’s pasteles were blind.” Which admittedly makes more sense in Spanish than in English. You don’t want to be fodder for the neighborhood gossip meal, so don’t skimp on the meat.
Top the meat with your add-ins. Again, I always add slices of roasted red peppers. You can use mild or spicy peppers, but if you use spicy peppers, make sure to use a red-colored twine so you can tell the difference between the two. I also add manzanilla olives to my filling.
Some people I know add raisins or garbanzo beans to their pasteles. Customize them to your preference.
How do you wrap Pasteles?
Don’t let this step overwhelm you.
Bring the two long edges up to meet each other over the pastel. Think of it like you’re folding a bed sheet and bringing the edges together. Once the edges are lined up, fold the paper over one inch. Now, fold the parchment over in half to form a band that’s almost as wide as the pastel. This encases the meat in the masa.
Fold one-inch of paper on the short end of the bundle towards the pastel. Now, fold the “tail” or unfilled end of paper towards the center of the bundle. It should land right about midway to the pastel. Repeat on the opposite side.
You’ve just wrapped your first pastel!
Test the first one before wrapping the rest!
Before you go wrapping up the rest of the pasteles, first, test this one. There’s nothing worse than spending an hour assembling and wrapping the pasteles only to taste them at Christmas and discover the masa needed more salt. Oooooh! I get so mad when that happens.
Tie the bundle with a piece of twine in a cross pattern. This will keep the paper from opening in the pot.
Next, bring a pot of heavily salted water to a rapid boil. Once the water’s boiling, add your test pastel to the pot and boil it for 30-35 minutes. After cooking, remove it from the pot and unwrap it. Give it a taste. Heck! Have everyone in the kitchen taste it to see if it needs more salt. Instead of plain salt, I add adobo if the masa needs it. Because adobo also has garlic and onion powder, it’s a better option flavor-wise than salt is.
Add adobo or salt to the masa to taste, then start assembling the remaining pasteles. This is where the assembly line that we all grew up with comes into play. Someone can be the leaf-oiler, another can be the masa-spreader, the filling and add-in person, and a wrapper/tie guy is at the end.
How do I tie the Pasteles?
Some people find this to be the most complicated part of the recipe. Tying the pasteles is essential because you don’t want them to open during the boiling stage and leak masa everywhere.
There’s also a traditional way to wrap the pasteles that make people’s hearts flutter when they see it. I think it’s because it makes people think of parcels from home. Pasteles come in yuntas or pairs or sets of two. They’re usually sold or given in docenas or seis yuntas (a dozen or six pairs of two). I know, I know, that’s too much math for me, also. Just remember this: they’re packaged in bundles of two.
Stack two pasteles with the folded ends face to face (or touching each other). Grab your cut piece of twine and hold the cut ends together, holding the string’s loop in one hand and two loose ends in the other hand.
Slide the string under the stacked pasteles, making sure the bundle’s short end sits right in the middle of the two strings.
Bring the three fingers of the hand with the looped end up. Go through the loop with those fingers and grab the two strings in the other hand.
Pull the two loose ends through the loop and towards the sides of the bundle.
Flip the bundle over and bring the string’s edges under the two strands on the backside (formed earlier by the loop). Tie the two loose ends in a knot and violá! You’ve tied your first yunta de pasteles.
How should Pasteles be stored?
Pasteles must be refrigerated after assembling. So, if you plan to dole them out to a few fortunate recipients, pack them in a food storage bag and store them for 24 hours in the fridge. Any longer than that, and you either need to cook or freeze them to keep the masa from spoiling.
Can I freeze them?
Absolutely. Pasteles are typically frozen after making, so we can have them “in stock” throughout the holiday season.
Pack the yuntas in docenas (or bundles of 6) to make a dozen pasteles per bag. Slide them into a gallon-size ziploc freezer storage bag. Freeze the pasteles for 6-8 months.
When I’m ready, how long do I boil Pasteles?
Pasteles must be boiled in salted water. It’s just the way things are done.
Boil them straight from the freezer; no need to thaw. Bring a gallon of water to a rapid boil. Add a 1/4-cup of salt to the water and give it a few seconds to dissolve.
Slide your bundles of frozen pasteles into the boiling water and boil them for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. If you’re boiling fresh, unfrozen pasteles, you only need to cook them for 30-40 minutes.
Once the pasteles are cooked, lift them from the pot using a kitchen fork or tongs and set them in a colander set inside the sink to drain a bit. Play a bit of Hot Potato and snip the strings off of the bundles. I prefer to cut both ends of the paper off before unwrapping the pastel, revealing it and letting it slide onto my plate. Others are masochists who like to burn themselves unwrapping the steaming hot pastel all at once.
However you get to the pasteles, slide them onto your plate after unwrapping. And, no, the banana leaf is not to be eaten. It just flavors the pastel and should be discarded with the parchment paper and twine. But, you can use it as a plate!
How do you eat Pasteles?
Pasteles are most often served with Pernil, Arroz con Gandules, and potato salad. A plate of that garlicky roast pork, rice with pigeon peas, and potato salad with its surprise bite of apple is classic. A glass of our coconut-cinnamon rum cocktail, or Coquito, which is our answer to eggnog, is never too far away.
You can serve pasteles on their own or with a side salad.
How do I store leftover Pasteles?
Store leftover pasteles in a food storage container in the fridge for no more than 24 hours. I don’t care for day-old, cooked pasteles. Pasteles become gummy and hard when you reheat them, which means they’re not appealing. Reheat the pasteles in the microwave covered with a damp paper towel.
I did it!!! YOU did it!!! We finally finished! Now you have the exhaustive guide to making authentic Puerto Rican pasteles! Be sure to pin this recipe to your dinner boards and share it with the ones you love!
Authentic Puerto Rican Pasteles
- 14-cup food processor, blender, or box grater
- butcher's twine
- vegetable peeler
- parchment paper
For the Pork Filling- Can Be Made One Day Ahead
- 3 pounds bone-in pork shoulder (see note section for meat replacements)
- 1 cup sofrito separated
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar or white distilled vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sazón
- 3 teaspoons adobo plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 large yellow onion cut in half, separated
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 10 olives sliced
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 2 large bay leaves
For the Caldo de Jamón (or Ham Broth)- Can be Made 3 Days Ahead
- 4 black peppercorns
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
- 2 bay leaves
For the Masa de Guineo (Green Banana Paste)- Can Be Made One Day Ahead
To Assemble the Pasteles
- 19 prepared (or frozen) banana leaves see body of post for preparing the banana leaves
- 3/4 cup achiote oil
- 1 batch masa de guineo
- 1 batch pork filling
- 1 cup (38) manzanilla olives optional
- 1/2 cup jarred roasted red pepper sliced, optional
Marinate the Pork (may be done up to 3 days ahead)
- Use a boning knife to remove the bone from the pork shoulder. Set the bone aside to use later for making the ham stock. Next, use a chef's knife to remove the fat cap from the meat. Dice the fat and set it aside (or refrigerate it with bone). This will be rendered to create the stewed pork filling. Dice the pork shoulder into small chunks: in squares about 1/2" big.
- In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the sofrito, the white wine vinegar, olive oil, sazón, adobo, oregano, and black pepper. Slice the onion in half. Grate one half of the onion into the bowl with the spices and vinegar. Reserve the other half to use in cooking the pork. Add the garlic to the bowl. Mix the marinade with a whisk until smooth.
- Add the diced meat to the bowl and toss it in the marinade to coat it thoroughly.Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the meat to marinate for 4-12 hours in the refrigerator.
Make the Caldo de Jamón or Ham Broth (can be done 1 week ahead)
- To a small stock pot, add the reserved pork bone and the remaining half of the onion.Place the peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves into the center of a cheesecloth square. Bring the four corners of the square to the center. Tie a 4" piece of butcher's twine around the top of the bundle to secure it.
- Tie one end of the string to the handle of the stock pot and put the spice bundle into the pot with the bone and the onion. Fill the pot with just enough cold water to cover the bone. Bring the water in the pot to a boil over medium-high heat. Don't stir the broth as it boils.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the broth to simmer for 15-20 minutes. The broth will develop a gray, foamy scum on its surface. Use a wide spoon to skim the scum from the surface then discard it. Continue simmering the broth until the 15 minutes. Once the broth is done, leave it to cool on the stove for ten minutes.
- Once the broth has cooled slightly, use a ladle to pour the broth through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into mason jars. Cover and store the broth in the refrigerator or use it right away.
Cook the Pork Filling (can be done 1 day ahead)
- About an hour before you plan to assemble your pasteles, cook the pork filling. Dice the remaining onion half. Heat a caldero over medium-low heat. Add the reserved pork fat to the caldero and let it slowly heat up along with the pot to render it. Once 2 tablespoons of oil have cooked off of the fat, remove the fat pieces with a slotted spoon (you can also just leave it in the pot).
- Increase the stove's temperature to medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and the remaining sofrito to the pot with the rendered fat and sauté for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Next, add the marinated pork to the pot and brown it over medium-heat heat for 8-10 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, sliced olives, capers, and bay leaves. Bring the mixture up to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low. Cover the pot and allow the meat to simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until tender.
- Once tender, the pork filling can be used right away or refrigerated for up to 2 days in a covered container.
Prepare the Root Vegetables for the Masa de Guineos (can be done 1 day ahead)
- Fill a large bowl with 6 cups of hot tap water. Stir in 1/4 cup of salt into the water. Use a chef's knife to cut off both ends of the bananas. Take the tip of your knife and make a slit down the back and front of each banana. Place the bananas into the salted water and leave the peel to soften while you prep the remaining root vegetables.
- Remove the tough rind from the calabaza. Cut the calabaza into 2-inch chunks and throw them into the bowl of saltwater with the bananas.Use a vegetable peeler to peel the yautía. Cut it in fourths, lengthwise. Add it to the bowl with the calabaza.Peel the batata and cut it in quarters lengthwise, as well. Add it to the bowl of saltwater. The peels of the bananas should be soft enough to remove by now. Peel each and return them to the bowl of water.
Make the Masa
- Set up your food processor with the grater blade. Turn the machine on and add the bananas and root veggies you have soaking in the saltwater to shred them.
- Remove the grating blade and replace it with the processing blade.Add 1/4 of the shredded veggie mix to the food processor bowl. Puree the mix for 1-2 minutes. Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl.
- Puree the mix for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the masa resembles peanut butter. Scoop the masa out of the bowl and into a separate mixing bowl. Continue pureeing the remaining veggies in batches the same way.
- After pureeing the masa, use a large spoon to combine. The masa should be smooth- free of lumps- thick, and almost spongy. Add 1/4-1/2 cup of achiote oil to the masa in the bowl. The more oil you add, the more orange, and looser, your masa will be. Add 1/2 cup-1 cup of the ham broth to the masa to make it smoother.
Assemble the Test Pastel
- Cut the banana leaves into rectangles that measure 7 1/2-inches by 6-inches. Gather the rest of the components to make the pasteles: the pork filling, masa, any add-ins (red pepper slices and olives), and the achiote oil.You also need a pair of scissors, sheets of parchment paper, and butcher's twine cut in strings 40-inches long.
- Lay a banana leaf in the center of a parchment rectangle. Spread a tablespoon of the achiote oil onto banana leaf. Take a large spoonful, or 1/2-cup, of the masa and spread it on the leaf in an oval that leaves a 1-inch margin of banana leaf showing.
- Top the masa with a 1/4 cup of the pork filling, followed by tablespoon of the broth from the pork filling. Top the meat with two strips of red pepper and two olives.
- Bring the two long edges of the paper rectangle up to meet each other over the pastel. Once the edges are lined up, fold the paper over one inch. Now, fold the parchment over in half to form a band that's almost as wide as the pastel. Fold one-inch of paper on the short end of the bundle towards the pastel. Now, fold the "tail" or unfilled end of paper towards the center of the bundle. It should reach the center of the pastel. Repeat on the opposite side.
Test the Pastel for Seasonings Before Wrapping the Remaining Pasteles
- Tie the pastel with a piece of twine in a cross pattern to keep the paper from opening in the pot.Next, bring a pot of heavily salted water to a rapid boil. Once the water's boiling, add your test pastel to the pot and boil it for 30-35 minutes. After cooking, remove it from the pot and unwrap it. Taste the pastel to see if it needs more adobo or salt. Adjust the seasoning in the masa to taste.Continue to assemble and wrap the pasteles.
- Once all of the pasteles have been assembled and wrapped, tie them in bundles of two. Stack two pasteles with the folded ends touching each other. Grab a length of twine. Hold the string's loop in one hand and two loose ends in the other.Slide the string under the stacked pasteles, making sure the bundle's short end sits right in the middle of the two strings.
- Bring the three fingers of the hand with the looped end up. Go through the loop with those fingers and grab the two strings in the other hand. Pull the two loose ends through the loop and towards the sides of the bundle. Flip the bundle over and bring the string's edges under the two strands on the backside (formed earlier by the loop). Tie the two loose ends in a knot. Continue tying until all of the bundles are secure.
Freeze, then Cook
- Refrigerate the pasteles after assembling and wrapping them. Pack them in a food gallon-size freezer storage bag in docenas (or bundles of 6) to make a dozen pasteles per bag. Freeze the pasteles for 6-8 months.
- Cook the pasteles straight from the freezer: bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add a 1/4-cup of salt to the water and allow it a few seconds to dissolve. Slide the bundles of frozen pasteles into the boiling water and boil them for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. If you're boiling fresh, unfrozen pasteles, you only need to cook them for 30-40 minutes.
- Once the pasteles are cooked, lift them from the pot using a kitchen fork or tongs and set them in a colander set inside the sink to drain a bit. Cut the strings off of the bundles. Cut both ends of the paper off before unwrapping the pastel and sliding it from the banana leaf onto a plate.
Meat Filling Alternatives:
- Chicken and Turkey: buy bone-in chicken thighs. Remove the bone and skin just as you did with the shoulder. Prepare the meat and cook as instructed. Reduce the simmering time to 15 minutes.
- Shrimp, Crab, Conch, or Lobster: remove any shells and dice the meat. Reduce the simmering time to 10 minutes.
- Tofu or Lentils: Cook as instructed. Simmer for 15 minutes.
To Freeze the Cooked Pork Filling:
- Allow the meat to cool completely before transferring it to a freezer-safe container or storage bag.
- Freeze the pork for up to 2 months.
- Thaw the meat a day in advance and use it as instructed.
Tips for the Ham Broth:
- The broth can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before using.
- To make a stronger ham broth, add 1-2 teaspoons of ham bouillon to the stock towards the end of the simmering time.
- The ham bone can be replaced with chicken or turkey bones or seafood shells.
Notes on the Masa:
- The masa can be made a day in advance and refrigerated in a sealed container. Don't store it in the fridge for more than 24 hours or the masa will start to brown.
- Milk may be added, instead of broth, to soften the masa. Just add 1/4-1/2 cup of whole milk.
- If you can't find green bananas, ask your grocer to order a case of ungassed bananas. If you still have no luck, use 9 green plantains and 3 large potatoes in place of the green bananas.
- Freeze the masa for 6 months: prepare as instructed, then transfer the masa to a freezer storage bag.
Once you're ready to make your pasteles, thaw it completely in the refrigerator. Hang the masa in a nut bag or cheesecloth bag for one hour to remove excess water that may have accumulated during freezing.
Storage Instructions:Store leftover pasteles in a food storage container in the fridge for no more than 24 hours. Day-old, cooked pasteles become gummy and hard when reheated.
Reheat the pasteles in the microwave covered with a damp paper towel.