Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hallaca: Remembering Spain, with a Caribbean flavor

If the “hallaca” became human, no doubt it would be a woman. One of the best descriptions of the emblematic dish of the holiday season in Venezuela was penned by journalist Ana Maria Carrano in the magazine Bienmesabe. “She would not be a Miss Venezuela, but a plump lady, colorfully dressed, a bit outrageous and full of surprises. An attractive lady, fun and disposed toward sayings.”

The hallaca is a charming paradigm that is a result of a cultural mix so typical among Hispanics. Undoubtedly, it is “the epitome of the process of cultural mixing. In it you find: the raisin and the olive of the Romans and the Greeks, the caper and almond from the Arabs, the beef from the captains living in Castile, the corn and the banana leaf of the Indians.” So it is described by writer Arturo Uslar Pietri.

Chef Sumito Estévez said in an article, which was titled “What if he Bolívar did not eat hallacas?” and published in September 2010, that one cannot compare the hallaca to a tamale. “On many occasions I have heard cooks compare it to a tamale. Such an attempt might make sense if our hallaca really were a mix of corn dough with other ingredients. That certainly is as far as possible from the concept of preparing the hallaca. In fact, if we had to explain what our dish is about, it would be much fairer to do so using the Galician empanada; that is, a tasty filling wrapped in dough. Our dough.”

The birth of the hallaca dates to the Spanish colonies, the 15th and 16th centuries. Its creation came via the hands of aborigines and slaves, who had to be inventive with the leftovers of their masters and oppressors.

Described below is a dish that takes two days of preparation and whose strict order of preparation requires time – a long time – in addition to the secret ingredient: passion for maintaining a generational legacy. The recipe is from Magda Carrasquero, originally from eastern Venezuela and interviewed by A Hispanic Matter.

Hallacas (50)

The Stew

6 cups chopped onions
4 cups of leek
2 cups scallions
¾ cups of garlic
½ cup capers
4 ½ red pepper
6 sweet ají peppers
1 tablespoon paprika
¼ cup of mustard
1 bottle of Worcestershire sauce
1 bottle of Spanish Muscatel wine
½ pound of brown sugar or piloncillo
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons of salt
2 cups chicken broth, freshly made
6 ½ pounds of pork
6 ½ pounds of beef (bottom round)
2 chickens of 4½ pounds each
Fry the ingredients for the sauce in a cup of corn oil.
Add the pork and beef, which has been cut into small squares (the meat should be cut while raw).
Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring and adding the sauce with a wooden spoon.
The chickens are cooked in boiling water until tender. The breasts are removed, which will be used for the garnish. The rest is incorporated into the stew.
It is cooked for about 25 minutes.
In a blender, place a cup of chicken broth with ½ cup of cornmeal.
This mixture is added to the stew.
Stir constantly for about 30 minutes until it begins to reduce.
The stew should be left standing until it cools completely. It should be covered with a kitchen towel, so that it will air out. This process can take between 6 to 8 hours or more.
The stew should be done the day before preparing the hallacas.

The dough

1 ½ cup water
5 cups of lard
¼ dry white corn, cleaned and sorted
30 cups cooked ground corn, or 5 kilos of corn dough
3 cups of the broth in which the chickens were cooked
5 teaspoons of salt
6 tablespoons annatto
6 sweet ají peppers
The ingredients are added to the corn dough. The texture should be smooth and the flavor can be adjusted as it is prepared.
2.2 pounds of red pepper
1/3 pound of peeled almonds
1 pound of onions
1/3 pound capers
6.5 ounces of olives
1/2 pound of raisins
The garnish items should be set aside on a counter.
Banana leaves
15 pounds of banana leaves
1 cup lard, colored with annatto
String to tie the hallacas
Water and salt for cooking
The leaves should be washed and dried well. They must also be baked.
All of them must be greased before adding the dough. This is done with a cloth.
The leaves are cut and sorted into three groups according to size. The larger ones are used on the bottom. The smaller ones are used on the top (as a kind of lid) and the others for the final wrap.

Cooking the hallacas

They should be placed in a pot of boiling water with salt for 45 minutes.
Before placing them in the refrigerator, they must be completely cold. 

Photos by Juan Miret

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