I know some people find these little stories that go with recipes annoying, but I like to give some background as to how or why I came to make each particular recipe, and provide some cultural context whenever possible so that my children and possible future generations will have it one day when I’m no longer here. Because more than being my stories, they are really stories of their heritage, where their father came from, their abuela. I’m only the messenger.
So, somehow I got the idea that I wanted to try making ticucos, but I couldn’t remember my suegra ever making them, and the recipe in my Salvadoran cookbook didn’t seem familiar at all. I really don’t even know how I learned of them. I’ve been joking with Carlos that it’s his cuckoo clock that gave me the idea. For years he’s wanted a cuckoo clock and was obsessed with the one at my grandmother’s house, so I finally got him one a few months ago. I don’t love it. It actually really annoys me, and I’m hoping in time I’ll be able to tune it out. But each hour it cuckoos the number of hours, and each half hour it cuckoos once. The noise to me sounds like it’s saying “ticuco” so I feel like that’s why I haven’t been able to get them out of my head.
I asked Carlos if he knew what ticucos are and he didn’t. We asked his mother and she said she knew what they were, but had never made them. I found a lot of variations online (most seem to be Honduran), so we asked what you put in them. My suegra’s very helpful answer was “whatever you want.” So with the help of some friends on Twitter, I researched. Many Salvadoran friends had never even heard of them, but it seems in Santa Ana, (which borders Guatemala, the same as the western part of Honduras where ticucos are popular), they are made, especially during Semana Santa. For more discussion and resources about ticucos, feel free to check out our conversations over on Twitter here and here. My friend Nyn found some really excellent resources for Salvadoran recipes.
So have you heard of ticucos? Does your family make them? What do they put in them? Share in comments!
And now, without further ado, the recipe.
Ticucos Santanecos (a mi estilo)
What you need:
4 cups Maseca para tamales
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 1/3 cup Canola oil
2 2/3 cups, plus 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2-3 cups shredded quesillo (you can substitute mozzarella if you can’t find quesillo)
1-2 cups frijoles rojos de seda volteados (you can use pre-packaged or beans you made)
dried corn husks (for wrapping the ticucos)
Optional: A few handfuls of chipilin (or baby spinach if you can’t find chipilin)
1. Soak the corn husks in clean, warm water to soften.
2. In a large bowl, make the masa by mixing the Maseca, salt, Canola oil, and broth by hand until fully combined. Note: Some people use lard and/or margarine to make the masa. If you wish to do that, see this recipe here. Also, I went light on the salt. Some people will probably prefer 2 teaspoons, but it will vary depending on the amount of sodium in the broth you use and your personal tastes. I personally think it’s better to use 1 teaspoon and then allow people to add salt to their own serving if they wish. If making this recipe for vegetarians or Semana Santa, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
3. If using chipilin, you can work that into the masa now. Note: If using chipilin defrosted from a frozen state, make sure you squeeze out any excess moisture before adding to the masa. You may also choose to remove stems from the leaves and only use the leaves in the masa. Chipilin can be difficult to find outside Central America, but you may find it at the international market in the fresh produce near cilantro, or in the frozen section. While baby spinach isn’t traditionally used, it smells, looks, and tastes very similar, so it makes a good substitute. Not everyone uses chipilin in their ticucos, so don’t worry about leaving it out entirely if you can’t find it.
4. Assemble your ingredients for filling the ticucos. (You can put the cheese and beans into bowls so it’s easy to grab a pinch.)
5. To assemble a ticuco you take one corn husk, shake off any excess moisture, and set it on the counter top. Take a handful of masa and flatten into a thick disc the size of your palm. In the center of the disc place a pinch of beans, and then a pinch of quesillo. Close the edges of the disc up around the filling so you have a ball of masa with the filling inside. Place the ball on the corn husk towards the wider end, but not quite at the end. Wrap the corn husk over the ball first from the left and right sides, then fold the narrow end up to match the other end. Tie closed with a strip of corn husk. Note: The thinner more pliant corn husks work best as wrappers. The thicker, rougher corn husks work best ripped into strips as your ties. See the video below if you’re having trouble and want a demonstration:
6. Repeat until you’ve used up all the masa. (I was able to make 17. If you’re more careful not to make them too big, you might get 18 – 20.) Place in a steamer pot, bring water to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until finished. I cooked mine for 1 hour and 30 minutes. I also needed to add more water at around 45 minutes, so make sure you don’t let your pot cook dry. To test your ticucos for doneness, remove one and let cool for 3 – 5 minutes. If the corn husk peels cleanly away from the masa while unwrapping, they’re finished.
7. Serve as you wish. These go well with salsa and curtido and a cup of coffee to drink.