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Zacahuil: The World’s Largest Mexican Tamale (and delicious)

  • Joel CZ 
  • 5 min read
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Have you ever heard of the zacahuil tamale? Read on, and I will tell you all about this delicacy, from its origin and flavor to its preparation.

This is a signature dish of the huasteca potosina (a region within the state of San Luis Potosi) Gastronomy since it has an artisan preparation that requires a wood oven and takes between 10 and 12 hours to cook.

What exactly is the Zacahuil tamale?

zacahuil tamale
Delicious tamale

It is a giant tamale that can measure around 5 meters long with a weight of 50 kilos and can be served to about 50 to 150 people.

The meaning of the word zacahuil is the following: it comes from the Nahuatl zacatl, which means “to wrap,” and huilotl, which means “turtledove.”

There is a fierce legend, in my opinion, as to how the zacahuil was created (taking into account that it is no longer prepared this way nowadays).

The legend says that it all started in 1468 when Huaxtecapan was conquered by the hosts of the Triple Alliance.

Therefore, the great Tenochtitlan was governed by Moctezuma, who appointed a calpixque (butler) called “Quimichtlin” (mouse) to collect the tribute from the subjugated people in the region, who abused his position by committing excesses to the detriment of the Huastecan women.

When the Huastecans learned that the Tarascans of Michoacan had defeated the powerful Mexica, they took the perverse Quimichtlin prisoner.

Eager to take revenge for his abuses and cruelties, they killed, skinned, and wrapped him in martajada and enchilada dough, which they ground in metlaltl (metate), covering him afterward with banana leaves.

They made a huge hole in the ground, filled it with stones, and covered it with embers. When they considered it was well cooked, they took it out and distributed it in portions among the women who had been outraged by the Mexica calpixque; this would help them wash their honor.

The Huasteca Potosina and its famous tamale

zacahuil
Serving the zacahuil

This is one of the most famous legends about how the zacahuil tamale came about; with the passing of the years, it is no longer prepared in this way, but it is filled with pork or chicken depending on your taste.

Zacahuil huasteco comes from the huasteca region which is conformed by the states of San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and even the state of Queretaro.

Indeed, this delicious and unique tamale was destined to be prepared on important days such as weddings, baptisms, sweet sixteen parties, among others.

Zacahuil tamale recipe

zacahuil
Wrapped and ready to be cooked

In case you want to make this giant tamale at home and surprise your guests, here it is:

To make zacahuil, you will need the following:

  • Stone oven
  • 12 kilos of dry dough
  • 700 gms of chile ancho
  • 150 gms of guajillo chile
  • 120 gms of pasilla chile
  • 130 gms of roasted onion
  • 4 roasted garlic heads
  • 6 kilos of pork lard
  • 50 gms of baking powder
  • 1 guajolote or big turkey (6-8 Kilos)
  • 6 kilos of pork meat
  • 1 basket reed of 40 cm. high by 45 cm. wide.
  • 40 large banana leaves roasted and wet
  • 10 maguey stalks
  • 2 long ropes (6 meters approximately) to tie up
  • Salt
  • Plantain leaf

How to prepare:

  • The turkey is divided into pieces and it is put to cook in 4 liters of water and two spoonfuls of salt until it boils once
  • The chiles are deveined and soaked in hot water. The garlic and the onion are grinded with the chiles, fried in 5 spoonfuls of lard and 1 teaspoonful of salt, 2 cups of water are added as they are boiled for 5 minutes
  • Add the baking powder, turkey broth, the rest of the lard, 2 tablespoons of salt and the water where the chiles were soaked. Beat well, the dough should be smooth, and let it rest for 2 hours
  • The basket is lined inside with banana leaves, they are moistened well leaving the part outside to be able to wrap the zacahuil
  • In the bottom and sides of the basket a layer of dough 2 cm. thick is put, followed by the sauce; then a layer of thin raw pork meat sprinkled with salt
  • Then more dough, the turkey meat well distributed and bathed with sauce, and so on, alternating meat, sauce and dough, cover with the leaves
  • The remaining leaves are used to wrap the basket and tie it tightly. It is baked in a very hot barbecue oven, placing maguey stalks on top of the fire and covering the basket with more stalks
  • Cover the hole with dirt
  • You can put the oven on at 7 pm and let it cook all night, to be eaten at lunch

Other typical Nahuatl dishes

There you have it. The zacahuil recipe. Don’t forget to share with your friends and also comment below to learn about your experiences with tamales.

Buen provecho!

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