One at a time, toast the chiles on an ungreased skillet over medium heat.
To do this, tear the chile into flat pieces. Use a metal spatula to press the
pieces flat against the flat surface, then in a few seconds (when they crackle
and change color, even send up a wisp of smoke), flip them and press down to
toast the other side.
In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and rehydrate them for
30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Strain, reserving the
In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic, black pepper and onion
with chiles and just enough of the soaking liquid to barely cover everything.
Process to a smooth puree, then press through a medium mesh strainer into a
medium (2-3 quart) saucepan.
Add the pork cubes, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil,
cover partly, and let gurgle away over medium low heat about 1 hr. or until
the kitchen is filled with a rich, spicy aroma and the meat is fall-apart tender.
With a slotted spoon, remove the meat to a plate and shred with two forks
(or let cool and shred with your fingers). Taste and season the sauce with salt
(usually about 1/2 teaspoon), then let sauce cool completely. There will be
about 1 1/2 cups shredded meat and 2 cups sauce.
With an electric mixer, beat the lard with the baking powder about 1 minute
or until light in texture. Continue beating as you add the Masa Harina mixture
in three additions. Slowly pour in a generous 1/3 cup broth, beating all the
while. Beat in 3 or 4 tablespoons of the cooled sauce. Beat in additional broth
(2 to 3 tablespoons) if necessary to o give the mixture the consistency of soft
(not runny) cake batter; It should softly hold its shape in a spoon. Season
with salt (usually about 1 scant teaspoon) depending upon the saltiness of the
For the lightest textured tamal, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so,
then rebeat, adding enough additional broth (up to 1/3 cup) to bring the consistency
it had before. Add salt to taste, if necessary.
If you have the banana leaf, slowly run it across a gas or electric burner
set on medium (you're moving at the right speed when the leaf becomes shiny
and limp as it crosses the heat). Cut a 9-inch section of the leaf. Put the
leaf in a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan to line the pan, pressing it snugly against the
sides and bottom, leaving the flaps hanging over the sides (the ends will still
be exposed). If you are unable to find banana leaves, just omit these steps.
Scoop half of the batter into the pan, then distribute the shredded meat over
the batter. Splash with several tablespoons of the sauce, spoon in the remaining
batter, and smooth it to cover the filling evenly. If using banana leaf, fold
the flaps over the top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, even if not using
Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for about 30 minutes, then reduce
oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 1 hour. Peel back the foil and
the banana leaf. The tamal should feel nearly firm in the center. If it still
feels soft (like there is still uncooked batter in there), cover and return
to the oven for a few more minutes.
Let tamal stand for a few minutes to firm up while you warm up the remaining
sauce. Gently turn out the tamal onto a cutting board. Peel off the banana leaf
if you used one. Cut into thick slices (it's rustic - somewhat crumbly -
so the slices won't be perfect). Serve on warm plates with a little sauce
spooned over the top.
Yield: 8 first course servings; 4 to 6 main course servings.