The word mixiote comes from the Nahuatl forms metl – agave, and xiotl – material for fabric, textile. Mixiote is the name of the white and translucent film that is peeled off full-grown agave leaves, used to wrap food for steaming. Mixiotes have been collected in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times; the Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as Mexica (Aztec) and Otomí peoples in Central Mexico, all used this technique to cook packets containing vegetables, and meat such as rabbit, venison, boar, or even alligator. After the Spanish conquest, sheep, goat, fowl, cows and pigs were introduced, and so their meat was used to fill mixiotes; lamb, and pork are now common choices, and chicken might have started as a changeling for rabbit, but nowadays it is the most popular mixiote filling.
Agave plants, specifically maguey (Agave americana var), grow naturally in the hot and dry climates of Southern US and Mexico; they are still extensively cultivated in the Mexican states of Estado de México, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Hidalgo, and Querétaro, for the extraction of aguamiel, the sweet sap that is used to produce agave syrup, and pulque, a fermented beverage. Peeling mixiotes damages the plants, and in many cases, causes their death, so nowadays the traditional dish wrapped in actual maguey film is mostly found locally in the aforementioned states; there have been petitions for the government to control the extraction of mixiote film, also known as mixiote paper, and to facilitate the identification of legitimate sources.
Conscious cooks use only eco-certified mixiotes for their packets, or substitute with parchment paper altogether, and the dish is still called mixiote. I am using parchment paper, as well as Aluminium foil as an outer wrap; the packets are assembled inside a bowl, to achieve a pristine shape, and avoid spillage, as shown.
The sauce for mixiote packets may be red or green, and spicy or mild, but always has a rich combination of herbs and seasonings; old-fashioned recipes include pulque, and modern versions either use Tequila, mezcal, or skip the alcohol. For my filling, I chose lamb chops, green tomatillos, Tequila, and no spicy peppers (photo at the top of this post), but I am including some options on the ingredient list.
Mixiote Packets with Herbed Sauce –
Mixiotes en salsa con hierbas de olor
Ingredients (for four portions)
1 ½ lb (680 g) meat, such as lamb chops, chicken breasts, etc.; cut into chunks
1 lb (454 g) potatoes, about 4 medium; cooked, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups cooked paddle cactus strips – Nopales (follow link above for homemade, or drained from canned)
½ lb (229 g) raw tomatillos; husks removed, washed, and halved (or tomatoes)
2 fresh serrano or dry guajillo peppers, or to taste (optional); washed, stems removed
4-5 cloves garlic; peeled
¼ white onion; peeled
2 tbsp pulque, Tequila or mezcal (optional)
½ cup water
1 tsp lard or oil
2 bay leaves
½ tsp dry thyme
½ tsp dry marjoram
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground all-spice
4 avocado leaves (if available, or omit)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Bowl, for assembling
Hot water, for steaming
Toast bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, cloves and all-spice in a dry pan (no oil) over medium heat, just for one minute (photo below, left). Transfer to a blender jar. Add lard or oil to the pan, and warm up; add garlic and onions (and peppers, if using, I did not), frying until slightly charred (photo below, right):
Transfer fried veggies to the blender jar. Add tomatillos (or tomatoes), alcohol (if using), water, and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, or to taste (photo below, left). Process until smooth (photo below, right):
Transfer to a bowl or cup, and reserve. Set up cooked cactus strips (photo below, left), cubed potatoes (centre), and avocado leaves (if using, right):
Cut four parchment paper squares (15×15 in ∼ 38×38 cm), four foil squares (12×12 in ∼ 30×30 cm), and four pieces of twine (25 in ∼ 63 cm) (photo below, left). To assemble packets, take one piece of foil and press it down inside the bowl (photo below, right):
Place a piece of parchment paper on top, then scoop a quarter of the potatoes and cactus in the centre (photo below, left). Add some sauce (photo below, right):
Arrange one quarter of the meat chunks on top, sprinkling with salt and black pepper, and tucking one avocado leaf in between, if using (photo below, left, with lamb chops). Top generously with more sauce (photo below, right):
Gather edges of parchment paper together at the centre, to close the packet, and tie with a piece of twine; wrap foil around (photo below, left). Remove packet from bowl, and repeat assembly with the rest of the ingredients and materials, to form four packets. Arrange in a single layer in a large pot, or pressure cooker. Carefully pour hot water in the pot, making sure not to pour any inside the foil, until it fills to about half the height of the foil wraps (photo below, right):
Cook, covered, for one hour over medium heat for regular pot, or half an hour in a pressure cooker. Serve hot in the packets:
When the twine is removed, and the packet is opened, the delicious aroma that escapes serves as a hint of how tasty the perfectly seasoned and tender meat is going to be, as it may be seen below, with lamb meat, just falling off the bone:
Lamb is the meat of choice for Easter, but these mixiotes are equally good when prepared with pork, whole chicken legs and thighs, or chicken breast chunks, as shown below:
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I am also sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #537, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.