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The Hirshon Nicaraguan Pork Nacatamal

The Hirshon Nicaraguan Pork Nacatamal

  • Author: The Generalissimo


Units Scale
  • For the filling:
  • 6 ozs. pork jowl (guanciale can be substituted or just use skinless pork belly), cut into one-inch cubes
  • 2 lbs. skinless pork belly, roughly cut (if you prefer a leaner cut, use boneless pork rib meat)
  • 3 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, grated
  • 1 cup peeled and diced white onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (1/2 head)
  • 1 Tbsp. achiote paste (or freshly-ground annatto seed, dissolved in mild vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup juice from a bitter orange (or simulate with equal parts of orange, lime and grapefruit juices)
  • 1 tsp. Mesquite liquid smoke (optional but recommended TFD addition)
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. freshly-ground cumin (optional TFD addition)
  • ***
  • To make the dough:
  • 2 lbs. corn flour, the type for making tortillas
  • 3 cups lukewarm water or chicken stock (TFD strongly prefers stock)
  • Juice from one whole bitter orange (or simulate with equal parts of orange, lime and grapefruit juices)
  • 6 garlic cloves, roasted in oven (1/2 head) (optional TFD addition)
  • 3 cups pork lard or drippings, melted
  • Kosher Salt
  • ***
  • Main ingredients:
  • 8 ozs. rice, soaked in water and drained
  • 2 medium white potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 3 medium heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and sliced
  • 12 small sprigs fresh spearmint
  • 12 small sprigs cilantro
  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives from the jar, more as needed
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, more as needed (TFD change, original recipe called for prunes)
  • 1/2 cup raisins, more as needed
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, more as needed
  • 1/4 cup capers, more as needed
  • 1/4 cup mixed red and green habanero peppers, de-stemmed, cut in 1/2 and de-seeded
  • ***
  • To assemble:
  • 23 rolls of smoked or boiled banana leaves (TFD prefers smoked, if you can find them)
  • Butchers Twine, to tie up the nacatamales


  1. First prepare the meat for the filling. The belly and pork jowl should be cooked in a covered pot over low heat with the tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, raw garlic, dissolved achiote, bitter orange juice, salt and pepper.
  2. Add ½ or one full cup of water (or chicken stock, if you have any extra) if necessary, and when the meat is tender, adjust the seasoning as desired. Remove from heat and let cool; the meat should be juicy and well-seasoned.
  3. To prepare the dough, place the corn flour in a bowl. Add the lukewarm water, bitter orange juice, liquid smoke and the pulp from the 6 roasted garlic cloves (if using) and knead constantly. Slowly incorporate the melted pork drippings and salt. The dough should be very smooth and similar in texture to play-dough. If the result is too dry, add a bit of water. Remember that as the dough rests, it will become more firm. When this happens, place in a pot over medium-heat and stir with a wooden spoon for around 40 minutes.
  4. Have the banana leaves ready for assembling the nacatamales. Take two leaves and place in the form of a cross. Place a ¾-cup portion of dough in the center, where the leaves overlap, and slightly flatten with your hand. Over the dough, add a piece of belly pork meat and two cubes of pork jowl. Cover with one tablespoon of sauce left from cooking the pork.
  5. To the side of the dough, place one tablespoon of soaked rice, with one slice of potato, tomato, onion and a sprig each of mint and cilantro.
  6. To the other side of the dough, add two olives, three golden raisins, three raisins, two peanuts, two capers and two stemmed habanero peppers (one red and one green.)
  7. Close the tamale as if it was an empanada, securing the contents well with the banana leaves, so that none of the filling falls out. Tie the nacatamales with twine to keep closed.
  8. To cook, cover the base of a large pot with a rack and place the leftover banana leaf scraps on top. Then add the prepared nacatamales followed by more banana leaves. Add enough boiling water to fill half of the pot.
  9. Cover the pot with a lid and cook over medium heat to steam the tamales for three to four hours. Remember that you’ll have to add more hot water over time, as it boils away.
  10. When finished, serve hot accompanied with pita bread.