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.
Reprinted with permission from Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling. Copyright 2014. Published by University of Texas Press. For more information, visit www.utexaspress.com. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Masa para tamales
- 2 cups (350 g) fresh corn kernels (4-5 medium ears)
- 1 medium clove garlic (1/4 oz/6 g), peeled and charred
- 1 3/4 cups (437.5 ml) chicken stock
- 3/4 cup (168 g) lard, enriched with bacon fat if possible
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
- 3 cups (400 g) masa harina
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) sea salt
- For the tamales
- 1 cup (125 g) hulled pumpkin seeds
- 8 ounces (250 g) fresh chaya leaves (substitute: chard or kale), tough stems removed and discarded
- Banana leaves, at least 4 pieces cut to measure 10x30 inches, plus extra ribs for ties
- 6 eggs, boiled, peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise
- Chile sauce of your choice
- Tomate Frito
- 1 cup (85 grams) green cabbage, finely shredded
- 1/2 cup (60 g) radishes, diced or cut into julienne strips
- 1/2 cup (80 g) tomatoes (about 1 medium Roma), seeded and cut into medium dice
- 1/2 cup (85 g) red onion, cut into medium dice
- 1/4 cup (20 g) chives, chopped
- 2 medium chiles habaneros (1/2 oz/14 g total), or to taste, stems removed, seeds intact, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) Seville orange juice, or substitute (see above)
- 1/4 cup (15 g) cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) sea salt), or to taste
To prepare the masa: In a large, heavy, dry skillet, roaste the corn kernels until pale golden brown and tender, stirring constantly, 3-4 minutes. Place the garlic and stock in a blender jar and process until well blended. Add the corn and process 3-4 minutes, or until thoroughly liquified; set aside.
Place the lard and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high until the lard turns fluffy and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the masa harina and salt to the mixing bowl and beat for about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed, until the mixture turns into a crumbly mass resembling coarse cornmeal. Slowly add the liquid from the blender to the mixing bowl, beating constantly. Beat 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Form the masa into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic, and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to develop flavors.
Meanwhile, grind the pumpkin seeds to make pepita molida: Heat a large dry cast-iron skillet over highest heat for 5 minutes. Place the seeds in the hot skillet. As soon as they begin to pop, toss or stir them vigorously and constantly to avoid burning the seeds at the bottom. Continue toasting until the seeds are fragrant and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Immediately transfer the seeds to a metal colander or large sieve (do not leave them in the skillet: residual heat can burn the seeds at the bottom). Outdoors, or in a place where you don't mind making a bit of mess, briskly toss the seeds in the colander to shake off the papery skins.
Once the seeds have cooled, place them in the bowl of a large food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process 3-4 minutes, until the powder begins clumping on the sides of the bowl. Stop the motor and use a spatula to scrape the powder back into the bowl. Process another 2-3 minutes. Scrape the bowl down again and process until you see very little movement of the powder (the clumping action is a result of the oils being released from the seeds). Taste a bit of the powder: it should have a pleasant texture but not be grainy. If it's grainy, process a minute or two more. Set aside.
To prepare tamales: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Plunge the chaya into the boiling water, reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Transfer the chaya to a colander, press out as much liquid as possible (too much moisture will make the masa soggy), and allow it to cool. Coarsely chop the chaya and combine it with the masa in a large mixing bowl. Knead the chaya into the dough until it is thoroughly incorporated.
Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 large balls. On a work surface, overlap enough large sections of banana leaf to form a rectangle about 15 inches x 20 inches (38 cm x 50 cm). Place 1 ball of masa in the center of the leaves and pat and extend it into a rectangle about 10 inches x 14 inches (25 cm x 35 cm) and 1/4 inch (6.35 mm) thick.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the Pepita molida onto the masa, spreading evenly. Arrange half of the boiled eggs tip to tip lengthwise along the center of the masa, leaving a bit of space on either end.
Finally, roll the tamal. Using the section of leaf along 1 of the long sides of the masa, lift the masa up and fold it over itself to reach the two-thirds point. Press the masa in place and gently peel away the leaf, allowing it to rest again on the work surface. Lift the opposite side of the leaf and fold the masa to cover the first section. Do not peel away the leaf; rather, continue to roll the tamal into a log shape. Tuck the ends under and pack and compress the log into a tight loaf. (Note: Make sure to check the size of your steamer; if the tamal is too large, you may pack and form the loaf to be smaller without ruining it.)
Repeat with the remaining components to create 1 more large tamal. Use the reserved ribs from the banana leaves (or kitchen twine) to tie and secure and steam according to instructions in Basic Techniques, for approximately 1 1/2 hours, or until the tamales are firm when pressed with your finger. Allow them to rest at least 15 minutes prior to slicing and serving.
Meanwhile, prepare the toppings: If you haven't already done so, cook the Tomate Frito.
For the salpicón, toss the cabbage, radishes, tomatoes, onion, chives, and habaneros together and refrigerate until ready to serve. Immediately before serving, add the remaining orange juice, cilantro, and sea salt and toss to combine. Check the seasonings and adjust to taste.
To serve: Slice each "log" into 6 equal pieces. For a dramatic party presentation, leave the tamales in the banana leaves and unwrap and slice at the table. Invite diners to spoon on their own salsas and garnishes. Alternatively, unwrap and slice beforehand, plate, and spoon on some of the tomate frito, remaining pepita molida, and salpicón. Diners add chile sauce to taste.