Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Patelles: A Trinidad Christmas Recipe

Trinidad pastels are similar to tamales of latin america: savory ground meats encased in a cornmeal dough and steamed to perfection. Pastelles are a staple on the Trinidad christmas menu; it a proud expression of the spanish influence on the country. As soon as we were old enough to help, my sister and I were recruited in the pastel-making ritual. And a ritual it is. First of all, during the week before Christmas, my father would gather bananas leaves. Since he owned agricultural estate at the time, it simply a matter of cutting a few leaves from a few banana trees. Then those leaves has to be washed, dried, and individually steamed to make them malleable enough to use as a wrap. These days, many grocery stores on the island sell pre-cut leaves.Here in Minnesota, I have opted to use parchment paper ( I can almost hear the collective gasp of my "Trini" relatives and friends) in place of the banana leaves because well frankly, I started this process way to late to find a way to locate these leaves in Minnesota. But dear friends, I find that parchment paper does the job just as well, and is much less work. Where would I have found the time within the past two hectic weeks to clean and steam banana leaves?

Another characteristic of pastelles is that the meat filling is typically ground beef. My version however uses ground chicken. Ninety five to five percent meat to fat ratio to be exact. Thanks to the Gold and Pump chicken company of Cold Spring Minnesota who has generously sent me samples of their new chicken products, I am using ninety five to five percent lean ground chicken.

Be it chicken or beef pastelles, making this dish always takes me back to a true island Christmas. A time of family, friends, great food, and warm weather; memories I welcome while looking out my window at the six inches of snow (and counting) that’s coming down.

Trinidad Pastelles
Makes about 2 dozens

2 lbs ground lean chicken
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup minced pimentos or jalepenos
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced olives
1/2 cup dark raisins

Corn Flour Dough:
2 yellow corn flour
2 1/2 to 3 cups hot water
1/4 cup butter
1/4 tbsp vegetable oil

24 10" x 10 " parchment squares
kitchen string
bamboo steamer

Prepare the filling:
1. Combine the meat, worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, onion, garlic, pimentos, cilantro, salt and pepper.
2. Add two tablespoon of vegetable oil to a large skillet and cook the meat mixture for 20 to 25 minutes. It should be light brown in color and most the the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the olives and raisins. Set aside while you prepare the cornmeal case.

Prepare the corn flour dough:
Combine all the ingredients until they stick together. Place two tablespoons

Assemble the pastelles:
1. Place one corn flour dough ball in the middle of one parchment square. Flatten to a 6 inch square.
2. Place up to two tablespoons of chicken filling on one half of the corn flour square. Lift the parchment that is under the other half of the dough and fold over the filling, sealing the edges as you go. Fold the lose edges of parchment under the pastelle and secure with some string.
5. Repeat with the remaining cornmeal dough and chicken filling.
6. Steam in a bamboo steamer for 20 to 25 minutes. Discard the string and parchment before serving.


Voyager Inde said...

recipe is great, i will surly try at home

Cajun Chef Ryan said...


This reminds me of traditional Mexican tamales in its preparation, yet it is so different in the ingredients also. I suppose a yin and yang of culinary delights!

Bon appetit!

Anonymous said...

This is not a Spanish dish nor is it Spanish influenced. It's a Venezuelan influenced dish. This is not a dish in Spain.

Anonymous said...

I believe spanish influence was a vague term, not meant to be disrespectful of peoples of Spain. Still yummy stuff I miss!!!