Pork Tamales in Banana Leaves


We have pressure cooker madness onboard our sailing vessel today.  Nothing illegal or sinister about this pressure cooker, but I have to admit these Tamales Wrapped in Banana Leaves are so good they should be outlawed! Pressure cooking is a go-to method onboard a sailboat, using less time and energy than conventional cooking. Plus you can lock down the lid on a swinging gimbaled stove; great on high seas. But do try this recipe at home too. Anything that tastes yummy on the water tastes fantastic at home!

First we need to make the Pork Carnitas,…in the pressure cooker, of course. This recipe is slightly different than the Pork Carnitas for Chimichangas; having no citrus and adding a habañero kick to it.carnitas-ingredients

Pork Carnitas

3 tablespoons bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
3 lbs pork shoulder roast
2 whole habañero peppers
6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed lightly
2 onions, quartered
1 stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
3 cups of water

Cut your pork into 4 large chunks. Place the bacon fat or vegetable oil in your pressure cooker. Light your stove and heat up the oil or fat.  Brown the pork on all sides while you prepare the other seasonings.


With a sharp knife, poke a large hole into each habañero. This allows the spicy flavors to escape, but keeps the seeds in. It also makes them easy to remove before serving. Next chop the onions, and crush the garlic. Place all of the ingredients in the pressure cooker along with the water.


Let this come to a boil and secure your pressure cooker lid. Make sure it’s nice and tightly locked down or it will not come up to pressure.


Once the pot comes up to pressure (you’ll hear it whistle a bit and the pressure relief ball starts dancing) reduce your heat to a simmer. Let cook for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, turn off your burner and slowly release the pressure valve until no more steam comes out. Once there is no sign of hot steam releasing you are free to unscrew the lid. Then smell that wonderful mix of garlic and cumin and habañero and cinnamon and allspice and, and…. Ahhh.


Pull out the undesirables with tongs such as the cinnamon stick, the habeñero peppers, the allspice berries if you can find them, any big chunks of onion or fat. Then break apart the tender meat with a fork while stirring in the juices. Set aside and prepare the tamales.


2 1/2 cups masa harina
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup lard or Crisco
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen and thawed, or canned)
1 package frozen banana leaves, thawed, rinsed and dried

Prepare your sweet corn. If you are using fresh corn, boil 1 large or two small ears of corn in your pressure cooker. No need to put it under pressure, just use it as a regular pot. Boil for 10 minutes then cut the kernels off the cobs. You’ll need about one cup.


In a large bowl, stir the hot water into the masa harina, salt and baking powder and let sit while you prepare the lard.


In a separate bowl, beat the lard until fluffy. Or as fluffy as you can get it. In a kitchen you would use an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Since we’re on a sailboat without such culinary luxuries, we are going to beat the lard by hand with a large metal spoon. Beat for at least 3 minutes. Your captain likes you strengthening your arm muscles like this.


Next fold the lard into the masa mixture, add the chicken broth, anise seed and sweet corn. Beat for another couple minutes. Then set aside and take a break. Might be a good time to have a Cerveza.


Now prep your banana leaves. If you have fresh banana leaves…all I have to say is “Wow! Where did you get those?” Use them. But if your banana leaves came frozen, like mine did, wash them then pat them dry.


Next cut the stringy tops and bottoms off the leaves, then cut into 8 inch squares. You’ll need about 20 squares.


Place two large spoonfuls of masa on a banana leaf square. Spread the masa until it’s about 4 x 4″.


Place a spoonful if the pork carnitas down the middle of the masa, then fold the banana leaf in so the masa folds over the carnitas.


It will look like this:


Fold the banana leaves into a nice little package and tie with a string.


Repeat with the rest of the tamales.

Fill your pressure cooker with 2 inches of water and place the basket into the pressure cooker. Fill the basket with the tamales.


Lock down the pressure cooker lid, light your burner and bring your pot up to pressure. This will take about 10 minutes. Once the pressure valve starts dancing, reduce your heat to a simmer. Let these tamales steam under pressure for 30 minutes.

I have six guests in the cabin. A den of thieves anxiously waiting. And they are hungry. This would take an hour and 15 minutes if I were to use a conventional steamer. And that is the beauty of a pressure cooker.

After 30 minutes release the pressure, open the lid and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Serve with Red Chili Sauce. (Galley Pirates recipe to come soon!)


After devouring our HOT TAMALES we took off under sail. Fair winds, full tummies and good times had by all!



4 thoughts on “Pork Tamales in Banana Leaves

  1. My grandmother used aluminum foil packets rather than banana leaves. They can also easily be frozen so if you make these at home and freeze, all you have to do is throw a few frozen tamales in your icebox and steam when ready to eat!

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