Brazo de Reina From 'Yucatán'


[Photograph: Mario Canul]

Brazo de reina is a large tamal filled with hardboiled eggs and served in generous slices. The name translates to "Queen's arm," which does little to describe the delightful complexity of the dish. David Sterling's recipe in his new cookbook, Yucatán, is a time-consuming one. There are pumpkin seeds to grind, tomato sauce to cook, masa to beat, salad to chop, and eggs to boil. But what emerges from the steamer at the end of the process is a glorious representation of the flavors of the Yucatán. The tangy, crunchy salpicón gives zip to the otherwise soft and rich masa, the drizzle of spicy tomate frito lends heat and acidity, and the final sprinkle of ground pumpkin seeds (pepita molida) tethers each bite with sweet earthiness.

Why I picked this recipe: I love tamales any which way, so I was dying to try this totally unfamiliar variety.

What worked: It may not be the most photogenic dish, but a slice or two of this tamal may be my new favorite meal.

What didn't: Working with banana leaves was a bit challenging, but even my shoddy wrapping job held up in the steamer. If you're unsure of your wrapping skills, I'd suggest cooking the tamales by laying them flat in the steamer instead of upright to prevent the masa from falling out of any gaps.

Suggested tweaks: I couldn't find chaya leaves; kale worked just fine. If you'd like to make the dish vegetarian, you can use chilled olive oil in place of the lard. You can scale the dish down by half to make one tamal if you'd like. (Each tamal will serve 6 as an appetizer or 3-4 as an entree.) If you can't find banana leaves, you could probably wrap the tamales up in parchment paper, but the flavor will not be the same. The best substitute for Seville orange juice is a mix of 2 parts lime juice, 1 part orange juice, and 1 part white grapefruit juice. (I did okay with a mix of orange and lime juice.) You can use thawed frozen corn in the masa.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Yucatán to give away this week.

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