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Banana leaves


February 4, 2012

Barbacoa is one of those iconic Mexican foods.

Juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone, infused with a rustic, smoky flavor and a jungle like fragrance. It uses a cooking technique that began in ancient times, long before the Spanish arrived, and it lives on to this day across Mexico in places that specialize in making it. Of course, there are accessible homestyle versions too.

Abroad, so many people have heard of barbacoa and want to have a taste of the real thing. The people I’ve talked to that have tried it are dying to repeat the experience. In Mexico it has never ever gone out of fashion, and it is especially rooted in the central part of the country, where I grew up.

True, that barbacoa sounds much like barbeque. Though it is from a type of barbacoa that Americans got the idea to cook barbeque, it’s not the Mexican kind, but the Native American found here in the US, which used to be outdoors and above the ground. In Mexico we call ours barbacoa too (thanks to the Spanish!), but the Mexican way is completely different: the meat is wrapped tightly in banana leaves, cooked for many (so very many!) hours in an underground pit with an initial heating base of burning wood, walls of brick and smoldering rocks that are sealed with a kind of clay, and finally steamed and cooked overnight.

If you haven’t tried it, this is your chance to make it! And no, you don’t need an underground pit, there are ways to go about it and you can cook it away while you are tucked away in your bed…

Continue reading Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo


PORK TENDERLOIN IN A SWEET CITRUS SAUCE
Lomo de Cerdo con Salsa Dulce de Citricos
Serves 8 to 10

INGREDIENTS
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup shredded piloncillo, or brown sugar
5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
5 bay leaves
3 whole banana leaves
5 lbs pork tenderloin
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp safflower or corn oil

TO PREPARE
To make the marinade: mix together the orange and lime juice, vinegar, piloncillo, garlic, salt, pepper and bay leaves in a bowl.

Begin to layer the banana leaves in a large baking dish, one by one. Place the first one vertically so it covers the whole dish, leaving the sides hanging over the dish on both ends. Layer the second leaf horizontally so it covers half or so of the dish, with the sides hanging over the dish on both ends. Layer the third one horizontally the the bottom of the baking dish is fully covered with leaves, with extra hanging over the sides to wrap up the meat.

If you can’t find banana leaves, you can use tin foil.

Place the meat in the middle of the leaf bundle. Pour the marinade on the top and cover the meat with each of the banana leaf layers on all sides. Let it marinate anywhere from 2 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and unwrap the pork from the banana leaves.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, until it is hot but not smoking. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper, place it in the pan, and sear for about 1 to 2 minutes on all sides.

Place it back in the banana leaves and bundle it back up. Place the wrapped pork into the oven and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven, carefully open up and unfold the banana leaves, tucking them on the sides until you expose most of the meat. Remove the meat from the dish to rest on a cutting board. Pour all the marinade into a sauce pan and set over medium high heat, for about 10 to 15 minutes, to reduce up to 1/3 of its volume.

Meanwhile, slice the meat at about 1/2″ thickness or to your liking. Place the slices on a platter, drizzle some of the sauce on top and serve.


Mexicans have been wrapping and cooking food in leaves for a long time, and this episode will look at the reasons why. It will also share three scrumptious dishes you can make in your own kitchen with the wrapping method and with three different kids of wrappers! We’ll also look at some shortcuts and tips for cooking wrapped foods in your own kitchen, as opposed to the traditional method of digging a pit or steaming them in an enormous pot.


December 16, 2009
Banana.JPG

Incredibly long leaves from the banana tree, the banana leaves have a beautiful deep green color and a strong fragrant smell. They are often used in Mexican cooking to wrap and cook many kinds of foods including tamales, meats, fish and poultry. They are both malleable and strong. Cooking in them not only concentrates the flavors of the wrapped ingredients but it also infuses them with a grassy, intensely aromatic and fresh feel.

Banana leaves used to be hard to find in the US when I moved here more than a dozen years ago.

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Banana Leaves

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