Friday, February 29, 2008

Muk-bil Pollo from Yucatan, a traditional Mayan dish...

We've had Muk-bil Pollo since we live in Merida and some of you have probably had it too.... a traditional dish cooked in a "pit" hence the name, but places with wood ovens can be rented to have it cooked for you too since a lot of people don't have ovens at home. You see signs all over town, in homes and restaurants, that offer this local dish around the time of the year when it is traditionally served which is for Day of the Dead, but you shouldn't have to wait until the winter to have it.... Also, don't be put off with the long recipe, it's not hard just labor intensive as many Mexican dishes are, but if you want real Yucatecan food, here is the recipe:

Muk-bil Pollo.- (means "cooked in the ground)

Make everything in advance so you have it ready and assembling is quick:

1.- You will need fat for the masa (dough):
A small frying pan
½ lb / 225g pork fat, cut into small cubes or manteca de puerco
Heat the fat over a medium flame until the lard renders out of it. Turn the pieces from time to time so that they do not burn but become evenly crisp and brown. If using manteca from the market, let it dissolve and get clear.

2.- For the filling:
3 lb / 1.300K chicken
½ lb / 225g pork shoulder
4 cloves garlic, toasted
1½ tsp salt
Water to barely cover
Cut the chicken into serving pieces and the pork into 1-inch squares. Cook the pork first since it will take longer to get tender, so begin cooking the pork and after about 30 min, put the chicken in. Put them into the pan with the other ingredients and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower the flame, and simmer until the meat is just tender about 35 minutes more. Strain the meats, reserving the broth. Remove the bones from the chicken. Set the meat aside.

3.- Thickened broth:
1½ cups reserved meat broth
2 Tbl tortilla masa, or 1½ Tbl masa harina "Maseca"
In small saucepan, stir the masa gradually into the broth. Bring to a boil, lower the flame, and stir the mixture until it thickens a little. Set the thickened broth aside.

4.- Seasoning Paste:
¼ tsp peppercorns
¼ tsp salt
1-2 Tbl achiote paste
1-3 Tbl white vinegar or sour orange juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Grind all the seasonings together to a smooth sauce and set aside.

5.- For the filling:
3 Tbl rendered pork fat
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 chile habanero, whole (optional)
½ medium green pepper, diced
1 large sprig epazote
1 large tomato, chopped
The cooked meats
In the pork fat fry the chopped onion, chile, green pepper and epazote, without browning, until they are soft. Add the ground seasonings and continue cooking the mixture for about 3 minutes. Add the tomato and the cooked meats to the ingredients in the pan and continue cooking the mixture for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Set aside.

6.- The Baking Pan: A metal baking pan about 8 x 8 x 2 inches
4 lengths of string, 30 inches each
Some large pieces of banana leaves
Lay 2 pieces of string parallel across the length of the dish and the other 2 pieces across the width - there will be a large overlap for tying. Quickly pass the leaves over a flame to make them more pliable (you will see when they get soft but don't burn), and line the dish with them, smooth, shiny side up, so that they overlap the pan by about 5 inches all the way around. Set the pan aside while the dough is prepared.

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180 C.

7.- To make the masa / dough:
2 lbs / 1K prepared tortilla dough, or 3½ cups masa harina plus 2 cups boiling water
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp hot paprika or ground red chili powder (pikin)
The melted fat
If you are using masa harina, mix it with the boiling water to a soft dough. To the dough, add the salt, paprika and fat, a little at a time, and mix thoroughly.

8.- Putting it all together:
The prepared pan
The dough
The filling
The thickened broth
A piece of banana leaf approximately 11 x 11 inches, roasted like before
The remaining dough
Press about two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan to form a crust about ¼-inch thick on the bottom and sides of the pan. Put the filling into the lined pan and pour the thickened broth over it. With the smooth, shiny side of the leaf upward, press out the remaining dough onto it about ¼-inch thick. This will be the cover for the pie. Carefully turn the leaf upside down so that the dough completely covers the pan, with enough of an overlap to seal it together with the dough around the sides of the pan. Fold the leaves over the top of the pie and tie them down firmly with the string. Bake the Muk-bil Pollo for 1½ hours and serve it immediately.
NOTE: If you look at the banana leaf you will see that it has a shiny, smooth side and a less shiny, ridged underside. Always put the tamal dough onto the shiny side. If you can time it so that you serve it hot, straight out of the oven, this is the best way. However, if you have to reheat it, then put it into the oven in a water bath to keep the dough soft. It freezes quite well cooked. Put it frozen into a water bath in a 350°F / 180C oven to reheat.

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