How to Make Pasteles Using Frozen Dough - The Easiest Way to Make Them!
Updated: Jan 25
It's almost Christmas, which means Puerto Ricans everywhere are making pasteles de masa for the holidays. Don't have time to make them from scratch? Don't worry, we have an even easier way to make them -- using pre-ground masa that you can pick up in the store. This method is just as good as the original, and so easy that you'll have no excuse not to make pasteles this year for your friends and family.
2 lbs diced pork shoulder
½ c sofrito
3 tbs vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
½ cup green olives with pimentos, diced
1 tsp adobo
1 tsp sazon (1 packet)
3 lbs frozen Masa de Guineo
3 lbs frozen Masa para Pasteles y Alcapurrias
1 cup chicken broth (1 cup water, 1 packet cubitos en polvo)
½ cup achiote oil
4 tsp salt
4 tbs shortening
Green Banana Leaves
To make pasteles even easier to make, we are going to be using store-bought masa. Earlier this year I saw these bags at my local grocery store and thought, "Really? Can that actually work?" But sure enough, I tried it and it was actually really good; almost as good as making it from scratch! I know that might sound apocryphal, and I'm sure some experts out there will be able to tell the difference, but 95% of the time no one will know the difference.
Now there are various versions of the frozen masa. I've found that mixing the "Masa de Guineo" (green banana) and the "Masa para Pasteles y Alcapurrias" (green banana, yucca, yautia) makes what, for me, tastes the most like traditional pasteles. The extra masa de guineo really helps accentuate the green banana flavor which is such a big part of the Christmas flavor palate.
Since it comes frozen, the first thing you’ll need to do is get your masa thawed. To do this, just put it in your sink and run some lukewarm water over it until it’s completely thawed.
While your masa is thawing, let’s go ahead and start the filling. Heat up a large heavy pan and add your oil. Once your oil is hot, add your pork and begin browning it, stirring occasionally, to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
As it cooks, you’ll see that the pork releases a fair amount of liquid. This is normal, just keep cooking your pork until all that liquid has evaporated. Once evaporated, go ahead and add your onion and garlic.
Now sauté these until the onion turns translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Once the onion is translucent, go ahead and add your sofrito, stirring to combine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated. Then add the rest of your ingredients for the filling. The sazon, the adobo, the olives, and the tomato sauce.
Stir to combine and cook for another couple of minutes, to really let the flavors meld together. Once melded, turn your stove down to low, put the lid on and cook your filling for 20-30 minutes, until it is fork tender. As the filling is cooking, check it every 5 minutes or so to make sure there is still enough liquid in the pan to prevent it from burning. If the liquid gets low, just add a little more water. Once your filling is done cooking, taste it for salt, and make any adjustments needed.
While your filling is simmering, go ahead and begin mixing your masa. Add both bags of masa to a large bowl. Make sure the bowl is big enough to fit all of the ingredients and still have space to mix.
Now add the rest of the ingredients. The achiote oil, the salt, the chicken broth, and the shortening. Once added, use a whisk to stir everything together. You want to make sure to mix it really well, since you need to ensure that the shortening is completely homogenized. Once mixed, your masa should be a consistent color throughout, with no lumps.
With your masa and filling done, let’s go ahead and get the rest of our supplies ready to roll the pasteles.
First, we’ll need to prepare our banana leaves, which we’ll roll the pasteles in. We are using frozen banana leaves, which you can pick up at your local grocery store. After you take your banana leaves out of their packaging, the first thing you want to do is wipe them down with a damp cloth, to remove any residue from their processing. Once you’ve done that, cut your banana leaves into pieces about 9 inches long, by 12 inches wide. They don’t have to be super precise, but try to keep them about the same size, as it will make rolling a lot easier. Also, make sure to cut off the hard, woody stem from the side of the leaf, to make it easier to roll.
This recipe makes approximately 18 pasteles, so keep cutting your banana leaves until you have about 20 pieces, just to be safe.
Next, cut your twine into pieces that are about 30 inches long, which we’ll use to tie up our pasteles.
Finally add some achiote oil to a small bowl with a brush. You can buy the achiote oil or make it yourself. If you want to make it, check out our earlier recipe on pasteles (HERE) for an easy recipe you can make at home.
Now with all your ingredients prepared, let’s go ahead and set up our work station. This process becomes something of an assembly line, so you want to make sure you have everything within reaching distance, so you can just start cranking out the pasteles once you get started. Here, you can see that I’ve set up my banana leaves, parchment paper, and achiote oil on my left, with my masa, filling, and twine on my right. I have also left a clear space right in front of me, where I’ll actually make the pasteles.
Now on to the rolling. Start by placing a piece of parchment paper in front of you, then place a banana leaf on top of the parchment towards the edge closest to you. You’ll notice that the banana leaf has lines in it; you should orient the banana leaf so those lines are running left to right across your body. This will make it easier to fold the banana leaf.
Once your banana leaf is situated, use your brush to spread some achiote oil onto the leaf, in a rectangle approximately 6 inches wide, by 4 inches high. This achiote oil makes removing the leaf easier once cooked, and also gives a little more color to your pasteles.
Now scoop about two-thirds of a cup of masa onto your banana leaf, on top of the achiote oil, and spread it out to cover the area you brushed with achiote oil. Now spoon about a quarter cup of your filling onto your masa, in a straight line along the rear edge of your rectangle. Once the filling is in place, use the banana leaf to fold the masa in half, so that the filling is completely encompassed in the masa. Next, pull your banana leaf back towards the edge of the parchment paper and roll the parchment paper over your banana leaf once. Then press down along the edges of the banana leaf, to push the masa towards the center of your pastel and then fold in the sides of the parchment paper on both sides. Once the sides are folded in, keep rolling your pastel forward, flattening it out as you go. Now set aside your first pastel and roll another, using the same technique.
Place your banana leaf on your parchment paper. Brush on some achiote oil. Add the dough and shape it into a rectangle. Add your filling along the edge of the pastel. Fold the pastel over once to fully cover the filling. Roll your pastel forward in the parchment paper and seal the edges. Then finish rolling your pastel.
Now that you have two pasteles, we are going to tie them together into what is called a yunta. To make your yunta, take the two pasteles and put one on top of the other, with the flaps facing inward. Then grab a piece of your twine and tie the pasteles together in the same way that you would a package, looping the string once across the long side and once across the short side. Make sure that the string is taught and the pasteles are tied snugly together. That said, you don’t want to tie them so tight that the string leaves a depression in the pasteles when you boil them.
Now keep rolling your pasteles, until they are all done. Once you get the hang of it, this whole process becomes really easy and you can wrap these up super quick. Indeed, because most of the work is in the prep, people will often do a whole bunch of pasteles -- as many as a couple hundred -- all at once and then just freeze them for later or to share with friends and family.
Once finished, I like to mark my pasteles with the type of masa I used, as well as the filling. This makes it a lot easier to grab the right ones later on when I’m rummaging through the freezer.
Finally, before you can eat your pasteles you’ll need to boil them. To do this, just add water to a large pot--enough to completely cover your pasteles--and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, add your pasteles and cook them until the masa is fully cooked. If you cook your pasteles fresh--right after you rolled them--it’ll probably take about 45 minutes to cook. However, if you freeze your pasteles and boil them right out of the freezer it can take about twice that long.
Once your pasteles are cooked, take them out of the boiling water, let them drain, and then unwrap them to eat. Just serve them with some arroz con gandules and you’ll have the perfect holiday treat. Enjoy!
Check out our instructional video, showing how to make this recipe step-by-step HERE.