The tamale is something I became familiar with after moving south (there were no real Mexican resturants in my little home town). When I was dating my husband, he took me down to the border. It was during this time that I found the tamale. The typical tamale is not the healthiest snack on the planet, but darn it tastes good! I searched out how to make these (and try to cut out some calories) and tested out my recipe on my unsuspecting husband and his parents. My father-in-law said I could make a lot of money selling the tamales because people love them around here. I’m not about to quit my day job to run off and make tamales, I haven’t mastered them yet.
Here is how I’m making tamales…
This is a process and you need a filling, masa (the dough), and corn husks. I have my poblano-oaxaca-chicken filling and masa recipes here.
You can put just about anything in a tamale. The tamale is really a carrying case for the filling, the star of the tasty byte. My sister-in-law puts cabage and jalepenos in hers, so put what ever you like. This is just the way that I’ve honed them at this point.
2 lbs cooked, shredded chicken or pork (remove all the visible fat and skin)
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced fine
2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 tbsp cascabel chile flesh (* see note)
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped fine
2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne powder (you can add more or less depending on your taste)
1 tbsp paprika
1 cup shredded jack cheese
Oaxaca queso (This can be expensive so keep the block handy and slice off pieces of cheese as you go)
2 or 3 poblano peppers (a jar of roasted red peppers could be used instead, but they won’t have any heat to them)
- Soak the cascabel chilies. The chilies come dried, either in a package or bulk bin if your grocery carries Hispanic/Mexican foods. Look for dried chilies that have a raisin-like appearance and feel. If they are so dry that they are brittle, there probably won’t be much flesh inside. So go for plump chilies! Bring a small pot of water to boil and thrown in the chilies. I like to weigh them down with a plate or bowl, this might speed up this step for you. Once the chilies look refreshed, take them out of the water and scrape the flesh out of them. You can remove the seeds.
- Roast the poblano pepper. This can be accomplished directly on a gas burner, or (for those stuck with electric stoves) broil on the top rack of your oven. Keep an eye on this puppy and turn it as the skin turns black. Remove the peppers from the heat and place in a kitchen towel. Remove the skin and seeds. Now, you can either dice it and mix it in with the rest of the filling, or slice it into strips (about 1/3″). I like the strip method better because you get a bigger poblano byte in your tamale.
- Sauté the onion. In a medium sized skillet, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Warm the pan over medium then add the onion and spices (salt, cayenne, cumin, oregano, paprika). Cook down the onion until it starts to get translucent, add the garlic (don’t let it burn!)
- Add the chicken or pork to the pan. This is just to soften the meat. Add the cilantro, tomato paste, and chili flesh. Add a splash of water or chicken stock. Let everyone mingle in the pan, turn the heat down.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool slightly.
I tend to double this recipe when making my tamales. IMHO: It’s better to have left over masa than left over chicken. Although, you could put this mixture on some tortilla chips with some shredded cheese, nuke it and call it a day.
2 cups masa flour (no substitutions here, at least don’t use APF)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups warm chicken broth (Hint: if you poached the chicken/pork you can degrease the cooking liquid and use it here)
2/3 cup shortening (lighter than lard!)
Black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper – a bit of each to your taste
- Add the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Mix the dry stuff so that the baking soda is evenly distributed.
- Pour in the warm broth. Gently stir the chicken broth into the dry ingredients, just to moisten it.
- Add the shortening. Whip it together in the mixer (I use the paddle attachment, a hand-held mixer will do the same).
- Cover. Keep the masa covered with a clean damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. If you are assembling the tamales right away, do not put the masa in the fridge.
Build Your Tamales
At this point, you will be joining the filling and the masa in a neat package of corn husk.
First, prepare the corn husks for the job. Take a good number of husks (20-30) and place them in a large bowl or container. Pour boiling water over them and push them down to release any pockets of air. I would weigh them down with a plate to keep the husks submerged. Leave them soak until they are pliable, about 20 minutes. If you soak too many, don’t worry, just dry them out and use them next time.
Next, smear a good tablespoon of the masa on to a corn husk, which has been dried off after its trip through the water bath. The aim is to create an envelope of masa that is stuck to the inside of the husk.
Now place a strip of poblano pepper and a spoonful of chicken mix. I like to add a strip of Oaxaca cheese instead of shredding it into the chicken.
Roll up the husk, be certain that the masa on all edges will touch together and seal. Secure both ends of the tamale. You can fold the bottom of the husk up and tie it with a strand of husk or kitchen twine.
I don’t have a fancy tamale cooker (if there is such a thing) so I assembled an experimental steamer out of what I had in the kitchen.
Steamer for the tamales
The steamer’s purpose is to allow the tamales to cook above the water (nobody likes soggy tamales). I’ve been told that another secret way to cook them involves a large pot and a stone – never figured this one out. Alternatively, if you own a veggie steamer, that should work. I like my little invention because the tamales stand up straight in the basket and the cheese doesn’t ooze out all over (most of the time!).
Steam for 45 minutes.
The best way to serve them is to make them the night before and crisp the tamales in a cast iron pan (comal). Remove from the husk and enjoy!
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