For years I have been intrigued by the thought of making my own tortillas, tamales, or arepas, but until now I had never taken the plunge. When I saw this recipe in Food & Wine, I was determined to make it at home as soon as possible. As soon as possible turned into a few months, but I’m not complaining, I’m just happy that I finally achieved my goal. And more importantly, I am happy to report that my first attempt at cooking with masa harina (very finely ground corn flour) was a success! These arepas were delicious, and I can’t wait to make them again and to experiment with the filling, maybe substituting the pork for beans?!
When I initially considered making these arepas, I assumed that I would substitute the pulled pork for shredded chicken (because who, after all, has 6 consecutive hours to cook an entire pork shoulder? And more importantly, how could I possibly fit enough people into my small apartment to eat that entire pork shoulder?). In what was certainly a sign of divine intervention, Fresh Direct was promoting its all-natural Berkshire pulled pork last week. I was hesitant about buying pre-made pork, but after reading that the pork was seasoned simply with just salt and pepper, I was sold. Fortunately, I had purchased a small bag of masa harina from a specialty spice store a few weeks earlier, so with recipe in hand, I went to the grocery store and bought the remaining ingredients for the recipe.
After returning from the grocery store, I tackled my biggest fear—making the arepa dough. Thankfully, this recipe couldn’t be more straightforward, you simply combine the masa harina with a touch of salt and some warm water and then let the dough rest for 15 minutes. However, the challenge is forming the dough into disks without breaking the dough. My first attempt ended in failure, I couldn’t even form a flat circle, let alone stuff the pork inside the arepa. After deciding that my dough must be too wet, I added more masa harina and tried again, this time flattening the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap so that the dough wouldn’t stick to my work surface. This time, I was able to form the disk. I cautiously placed a small amount of pork filling in the center of the disk and than very carefully brought the sides of the dough up around the pork, creating a ball (inside the plastic wrap). Then, I even more carefully flattened the ball with my palm. To my shock and delight, it actually worked! Even though my arepas were very delicate, they didn’t have any gaping holes. I delicately placed each arepa on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and then placed the formed arepas in the refrigerator until dinner.
To cook the arepas, I modified the recipe. I wasn’t keen on frying the arepas, so I sautéed them in a nonstick skillet over high heat with a small amount of canola oil. After browning both sides, I placed the cooked arepas in the oven to finish cooking. We ate our arepas topped with the red cabbage and red onion slaw suggested by Food & Wine, which added just the right amount of acidity to counterbalance the rich filling. We also garnished our arepas with some sour cream, fresh cilantro, and pickled jalapeños (which I was surprised to discover that I enjoy tremendously!). In the end, it was a fantastic meal. I loved how the soft and sweet masa dough paired with the slightly smoky and spicy pork. Now I just need an excuse to have a fiesta in my small apartment so that I can make them again!
Pulled Pork Arepas with Red Cabbage Slaw
Recipe slightly adapted from Food & Wine
- 2.5 cups masa harina flour (I have heard that Maseca brand is the best)
- 1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces cooked pulled pork (or chicken if that is what you have on hand)
- 4 ounces (1 cup) grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallion (green parts only)
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- hot sauce to taste (I used Frank’s hot sauce)
- 2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
- ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Vegetable oil (for sautéing)
- Sliced picked jalapeños, sour cream (low fat or regular), fresh cilantro
- Combine the masa harina and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and combine well until the mixture forms a soft dough. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.
- While the dough is resting, combine the pulled pork, cheddar, hot sauce, scallions, and cilantro in a bowl.
- After the dough has rested for 15 minutes, line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil and set aside. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface or cutting board. Place a quarter of the dough on the plastic wrap and form a small ball with the dough. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough and press down with your palm to form a 7-inch disk. Place about a third of a cup of the pork filling in the center of the disk. Carefully pull up the sides of the disk to form a ball around the filling, keeping the plastic wrap in place. Gently press down to form a 4-5 inch disk. Place the formed arepa on the sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Repeat three more times to form four arepas. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
- At least 30 minutes before you plan to serve the arepas, combine the red cabbage, red onion, and red wine vinegar in a bowl. Season with salt to taste. Cover until ready to serve.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place a medium-size nonstick skillet over high heat.
- Add a tablespoon or two of canola oil to the pan and swirl to coat the surface of the pan with oil. Place two of the arepas (seam side down) in the pan and sauté over high heat, flipping once, until both sides are a nice golden brown color.
- Place in the oven to finish cooking for approximately 5 minutes. Repeat steps 6 and 7 to cook the remaining two arepas.
- Serve with slaw and additional garnish as desired.