Yucatan Style “Patted” Tamales – Torteados

Over the years, I have published several posts about the significance of the Mexican tradition of sharing a meal of tamales on February 2, which is marked on the Catholic calendar as  Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple; please click here for my full story on the origin of Candlemas and corn offerings in Mexico.  Nowadays, Día de la Candelaria celebrations in Mexico still involve church services for the blessing of candles and figurines representing baby Jesus for many people, but for the majority, it is mostly about the corn offering, namely, tamales.  As detailed in a previous post, the meal is usually hosted by the person(s) who found figurines representing baby Jesus, hidden in the special bread that was served on Epiphany Day (January 6).  Last year, I posted a recipe for Oaxaca Style Tamales, wrapped in banana leaves; this year, I am revisiting the banana leaf wraps (instead of corn husks), but this recipe comes from the state of Yucatan. 

The variety of tamales from Yucatan includes a wide range of  fillings, sauces and toppings, as well as dough preparation, different shapes, sizes and cooking methods.   The best known nationwide is the one I am sharing today, called torteados – patted – because the corn base is prepared to a thick consistency that may be applied to the wrap by patting, instead of spreading. 

To prepare banana leaves, thaw in the fridge if frozen; wash and dry on both sides.  Before using, the leaves must be roasted to make them pliable.  Place a baking sheet on the stove over medium heat. Run the leaves over, with the smooth side facing up; the surface will quickly become shinny:

The leaf will become pliable, as well.  Do not overcook or it will burn and become brittle again.  Repeat with the other leaves.  (Click here for detailed printable directions.)

The filling is usually a type of meat cooked in an annatto seasoning called recado rojo.  Click on the highlighted text for my recipes for pork in annatto seasoning (cochinita pibil) shown in the photo below, left, and chicken in annatto sauce (pollo pibil), photo below, right:

To prepare the filling for the tamales, shred the meat and mix with a generous amount of the annatto sauce from the dish.

The topping may be (click on highlighted text for my recipes):  A spicy Habanero and charred tomato sauce (chiltomate), or a red onion and Habanero condiment, or pickled red onions.  I am using the latter, of which I often have a jar in the fridge that stays fresh for a couple of weeks.

Pickled Red Onions

Printable recipe:  Pickled Red Onions


½ red onion; peeled and sliced thinly
½ tsp salt
½ cup white wine vinegar
¼ tsp dry oregano; crumbled 
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
Boiling water, as needed 
Glass jar with lid, 375ml (12 oz) capacity, or larger

Place onions in glass jar; sprinkle with the salt, mixing with a spoon to rub onto onions. Add vinegar, peppercorns and oregano. Close jar, and shake to mix; uncover and then fill the jar with boiling water, as needed, to cover onions completely. Close jar and let rest until it cools down, then place in the fridge, preferably overnight, but at least for a couple of hours. It may say in the fridge for two to three weeks.

Once the banana leaves, filling and topping are ready, the tamales may be assembled.

Yucatan Style “Patted” Tamales – Tamales Torteados

Printable recipes:

Yucatan Style Patted Tamales – Tamales Torteados

How to Prepare Banana Leaves

Pork in Annatto Seasoning – Cochinita Pibil

Chicken in Annatto Sauce – Pollo Pibil

Pickled Red Onions

Ingredients (for 8 tamales)

Roasted banana leaves, enough to get 8 pieces, each approximately a 10×10″ (25×25 cm) square, plus more for covering pot 
2 cups shredded cochinita pibil (pork in annato seasoning) or pollo pibil (chicken in annatto sauce)
Corn Paste:
3 cups nixtamalized corn flour (masa harina, such as Maseca™; not corn starch)
3-4 cups hot water or broth, as needed
1 cup + 3 tbsp lard, at room temperature; or vegetable oil
1 tsp salt 
Pickled red onions

Prepare corn paste:  Place corn (masa) flour, salt, and lard in a large mixing bowl,  then pour in three cups of hot liquid (in my case chicken broth, photo below, left).  Incorporate all ingredients with a spatula, or hands, adding more hot liquid, as needed, to obtain a firm – but still soft – smooth paste (photo below, right):

Assemble tamales:  Set one roasted banana leaf square on the table, with the shinier side down, then take one eight of the corn paste and pat with hands on the centre, forming a thin square of dough, leaving a 2 inch (5cm) edge empty all around (photo below, left).  Scoop one quarter cup of filling onto the centre of the corn paste square, leaving one inch from the edges of the paste without filling (in this case, chicken in annatto sauce, photo below, right):

Bring the upper and lower edges of the leaf together, pinching and folding flat (photo below, left).  Flip over so the fold is facing down, then tuck-in the perpendicular edges, to form a rectangular packet (photo below, right):

The packets may be tight up with kitchen twine or a thin strip of banana leaf to prevent them from opening, or keep folded edges facing down.  Repeat with the rest of the ingredients to form eight packets.

Cook tamales: Prepare a large steamer by heating up water in the bottom pot, and lining the steaming basket with a layer of leftover banana leaves; I do not own a large steamer, so I always use a large metal colander that fits on top of my largest pot.  Arrange packets in the prepared basket (or colander), in layers and with folds facing down, forming a pile (photo below, left). Cover with more leftover banana leaves (photo below, right):

Cover with a clean kitchen towel, tucking over the banana leaves inside the edge of the steaming basket/colander, so the packets will not get wet with condensation during steaming (photo below, left). Transfer basket/colander and fit on top of pot with boiling water on the stove, making sure there is just enough water so the basket does not touch the water (photo below, right):

Place lid on, completely closing the top (photo below, left). Cook over high heat to make sure the water is boiling, then reduce to a rolling boil, and let the tamales steam for at least one hour.  I always check the bottom pot halfway through, to make sure the it is not drying too fast; if needed, add boiling water.  After one hour, carefully open the pot and move towel to the side (photo below, right):

Remove one tamale, and check doneness by unwrapping; the tamale is ready when it separates easily from the leaf; if needed, close tamale, return to the pot and cook longer in ten minute intervals, until done.  Serve hot, opening the leaf and garnishing with some topping:  

When sliced, the fully cooked tamales reveal a porous texture, and a delicious melding of flavours of nixtamalized corn and filling, complemented with the crunch and tangy flavour of the pickled onions:

A batch of these delicious “tamales torteados” from Yucatan is a wonderful choice to offer on February 2 while hosting a Candlemas meal, or simply as a comforting mid-winter meal, to keep everybody cosy and warm. 

For your convenience, click on the highlighted text below for products available on Amazon™.  DISCLAIMER: Any reviews included in this post are my own, for items I have purchased, not provided by any company; as an Amazon Associates Program affiliate, I might receive a commission for any purchases originated from the links below, at no extra cost to you.  Thank you to readers who have bought other products starting with a click from my links!

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