Ayacas de Gallina (ah-YAH-cahs deh gah-YEE-nah) is one of the Ecuadorean versions of the Mexican tamale. The ayacas, different to the traditional tamales, are wrapped in banana leaves and are very typical in the coastal regions of Ecuador, where I am from. Humitas (ooh-MEE-tahs) resemble more the traditional Mexican tamale as they are wrapped in corn husks.
This recipe for Ayacas can also use pork (chancho) instead of chicken. While Gallina means “hen”, you don’t need the whole bird to make this. What you do need are meaty pieces of chicken, BONE IN. This is where the flavor is: the chicken is poached and shredded once it’s cooked; then you’ll need the chicken stock to make the dough for the ayacas.
This was my first time making ayacas, and I was covered in “Maseca” (corn flour) after I got done, but I must say, I was pretty pleased by the outcome. So was my husband; he liked the simple taste of them – the sweetness of both the dough and the filling (the filling contains raisins). I had quite a bit of the chicken filling left; I think you can combine it with some pre-made tomato sauce, cook some spaghetti and you have a yummy dinner. I do warn you, making ayacas was a bit time consuming – now I know why my nana started making dinner at noon! Regardless, I hope you give ayacas a try and enjoy them. Let me know if you have any questions.
Ayacas de Gallina (o de Chancho)
Makes 10-12 ayacas
4-5 lbs of chicken cuts, bone in (I recommend using chicken breasts, thighs or a combination of both)
1 small white onion, quartered
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
2+ liters of water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 lb butter
1 lb of corn flour (I used Maseca, available in the ethnic/hispanic food section of the grocery store), sifted 3x
1/4 lb granulated sugar
10-12 pieces of banana leaves, cut in roughly 10″x10″ squares
In a large stock pot, poach the chicken with the onions, celery, garlic and salt and pepper. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and shred using two forks. Set aside. Take 5 cups of your chicken stock (remove the vegetables), and pour them in another pot at medium heat. Add the butter and cook until melted. In a bowl, start combining the corn flour and the sugar with the hot liquid in batches, mixing constantly with a wooden spoon so no lumps form. You should have a smooth dough once you are done with this process.
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
2 tbps annato-infused oil, or regular oil (add 1-2 tsp paprika for extra coloring if you don’t have annato)
2 dozen pimento-stuffed green olives (no seeds)
1 tbps toasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup raisins (green or black will work)
4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered (if you don’t like hard-boiled eggs, you can skip this step)
In a food processor or blender, process the tomatoes and the onion. In a frying pan, heat the oil and cook the tomato-onion mixture in medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the shredded chicken, olives, peanuts and raisins. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove from the heat.
Lay your banana leaf flat and add a large scoop of dough. Press the dough flat. Add a spoonful of the chicken filling and 1/4 piece of egg. Roll the banana leaf as if you are rolling up a burrito (i.e., roll the bottom half in, roll in the sides, and roll the whole thing). Cook in baine marie* (i.e. a smaller bowl inside a larger pot with water, like a double boiler) on the stove for about 30 minutes.
* It dawned on me last night after I was done, that if you happen to have those Chinese steamers for dumplings – that device will work great for steaming the ayacas.