Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tamale-Fest 2010

My daughter and I have a tradition of day-long, tamale-making sessions. Today was our first tamale-fest since 2008, before my daughter's engagement. We invited her mother-in-law over to watch and help. Her mother-in-law is an excellent cook, and we were eager to share our process with her.

All in all, a successful day. Lots of female bonding to be sure. I wish I could show step-by-step pictures from this event but we were too busy to stop. Now we have enough tamales to fill the freezer for a while. We made 9.5 dozen tamales. Yum.

All of the recipes below assume that since you are going to the trouble of making the tamales, you will want to make lots to freeze. The filling amounts below yielded us about 9.5 dozen tamales. With the masa, you will need to make several batches.

Corn and Green Chili Filling
2-3 cans of corn
1-2 cans of green chiles
2 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

Combine all ingredients except cheese in a bowl. Shred the cheese into a separate bowl. When filling tamales, spoon corn mix on first, then top with cheese.

Habanero Pork
2-3 pound bone-in pork roast
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 onion, diced
1 habanero chili, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
4 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, removed from stems and chopped

Place roast in roasting pan. Top with chili powder, onion, chili, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Add 1 cup water to make steam and seal pan with foil. Bake until tender, at least 3 hours. Drain drippings, remove excess fat, and cut into small pieces. Add cilantro and combine well.

Green Chili Beef
2-3 pound beef pot or round roast
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
1 can green chiles
4 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, removed from stems and chopped

Please roast in roasting pan. Top with onion, garlic, chiles, cumin, salt and pepper. Add 1 cup water to make steam and seal pan with foil. Bake until tender, at least 3 hours. Drain drippings, remove excess fat, and cut into small pieces. Add cilantro and combine well.

Jalepeno Chicken
2 pounds chicken breasts
Olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
3 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can of jalepeno peppers
Cilantro, removed from stems and chopped

Drizzle olive oil on chicken. Top with garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Bake until tender. Dice chicken. Stir in jalepeno peppers and cilantro; combine well.

Corn Husks Preparation
Corn husks must be pliable, so submerge them in very warm water about 30 minutes before you intend to begin assembly. You will notice that some of the husks are too small in diameter to hold a tamale. That's okay, you can tear these into strips and use for ties on the ends. A large plastic bowl in the kitchen sink works well to get the corn husks sufficiently immersed.

Masa Preparation
4 cups masa (available at most grocery stores in the Mexican food section)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup shortening or lard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder

Blend the masa by working the ingredients together with your fingers. As an alternative, a hand masher works well, too.

Be it known, my daughter is the masa maker and she likes to slip in additional spices, such as extra chili powder and cumin. We will do about anything to prevent our tamales from tasting bland and rubbery like many of the ones available at Mexican restaurants. That isn't to say ours are more authentic, but they are very tasty.

This recipe, when doubled, makes about 30-40 tamales. Secret hint: we always double the recipe and still end up making three batches in a typical tamale day.


Remove corn husks from water and place on a flat working area near the masa dough.
Form 1.5" balls of masa dough and place on wax paper.
Press out the masa onto a plate or tortilla press. (Note: We got our tortilla press in Puerto Vallarta. It's the authentic Mexican wooden type, but there are more modern versions available on the Internet. The press is not a necessity; however, the process will go much faster and easier if you have one.)
Transfer the masa to a flattened corn husk. The edges of the masa may hang over the husk by a little bit, allowing for overlap when folding.
Spoon a heaping tablespoon full of the desired filling lengthwise down the masa dough.
Fold the husk edges and press the edges of the masa dough together.
The husk edges should overlap. If not, add a second corn husk to completely cover the masa dough.
Tie the ends with strips of corn husks. I have found that two strips creates a stronger tie which is less likely to break when you are making a knot.
In a large steamer (or two or three ...), steam the tamales for 45 minutes. While they are cooking, be sure to check the water level every 10 or so minutes.
Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Wrap in freezer wrap.
Add stickers, if desired, to identify by filling type.
Place in freezer bags.
To reheat, place on plate and microwave for 3-5 minutes. Serve as is or with salsa.
Tamales tend to be quite a popular food for a quick meal or snack. You'll probably need to do another tamale day in a few months, or take the easy route and buy them at Costco.

The Rhythm of the Day ... a few final tips
It's definitely fun to have some salsa music playing in the background to set the mood.
This sounds selfish but don't invite too many friends or you won't have tamales to freeze.
Have something planned for lunch. Tamale making takes all day and it may be several hours before you have finished product to sample. Depending on when you start, this may be before lunch.
Know where your doors and smoke alarms are. Chances are, with all the steaming and baking, you will set one off and will need to take prompt action.
It works best to have each person have a job for the entire day rather than rotating ... that way everybody develops some "expertise", and you will appreciate this expertise around 8 pm when everyone's feet are tired and you are ready to be done.
Complete one or two steps along the way done before moving on in the assembly process, especially if there are only two or three people.
Assemble the green corn tamales while baking the roasts and chicken. Or ... you can cook the roasts the day or evening before, then the order of assembly won't matter.
We use star stickers like the ones from kindergarten to identify the tamales by filling. Yellow for chicken, silver for pork, green for corn, and red for beef.
Vegetarians ... other than the green corn tamales, I don't have recipes for vegetarian tamales. There are many cultures with a scant understanding or appreciation for vegetarianism. I'd consider Mexico to be one such, although I know there are a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants cropping up in the beach tourist areas.
A word about guys ... guys love tamales. But be warned, you may see them disappear faster than you had planned. Always good to have a hiding place in the freezer for a quick meal. :D
Photos courtesy of Angela Fairbanks Photography

1 comment:

  1. Love love love tamale days! It's been way too long since our last one but I am very satisfied with this round. Perhaps someday I will be Latina. My recipe won't be posted until Thursday, but check it out