by Rachel Perlow
I’ve recently begun experimenting with the making of tamales, the yummy Mexican treat of a savory filling surrounded by a corn meal paste known as masa. And, while I’m by no means a tamale expert, which I believe starts by being an abuela, I must pat myself on the back and say “wow, I can really make a tamale!” Making tamales is surprisingly easy, if not quick, as long as you have the right ingredients and equipment.
Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for the recipe and step by step photos…
To make tamales you need a few ingredients and supplies which are most easily found at a Mexican grocery store. There are a few taquerias and bodegas near where we live where we can get these items. If you don’t have access to such a store, internet mail order can help, but you can probably find decent substitutes at your supermarket.
First, you’ll need some masa harina. This is corn meal which has been nixtamalized (click the link, don’t ask me). If you can’t find it locally, then you should probably mail order it because it isn’t regular corn meal, polenta or Jiffy corn bread mix. As long as you’re getting real masa, you may as well get manteca pura. You can use lard, corn oil, or god-forbid shortening, but this Mexican rendered pork fat has great flavor.
Some Mexican cheese is nice to use, like Queso Oaxaca, but string cheese or mozzarella can be substituted. I also like to use pickled jalapenos. They have some heat, but it’s the pickled flavor that really adds something special. The final ethnic ingredient is the corn husk wrappers. I think they add a bit of flavor to the tamale and a lovely ridged texture. However, if they can’t be located you can use parchment paper cut into 6-8″ squares.
This recipe is scaled to my electric steamer. It is a Black & Decker Handy Steamer. However, if you don’t have an electric steamer, a regular pot steamer would work. The best type would be the kind that has an exact fitting insert, like a spaghetti pot. But, like I said, my batch is scaled to my steamer, which is probably smaller than that, so you might have to double the recipe or more to fill your pot. One batch makes approximately 2 dozen small tamales, perfect as party food.
We’re making a variety of flavors for a Superbowl party. In fact, I’m not even going to give you a recipe for the fillings. You can fill a tamale with pretty much anything. In the pictures and video, I adapted a Green Chile and Tomatillo Chicken Stew for my filling. There are numerous recipes online for tamale fillings.
You can also take some leftovers and turn them into tamale filling. Say you have some leftover grilled chicken, roast beef, pork chops, etc. Shred the meat, add a few spoonfuls of salsa to moisten, chopped cilantro, some cumin; add a bit of cheese and a slice of pickled jalapeno when filling your tamale. There you go!
So, here’s the procedure for making one batch of approximately 2 dozen small tamales. First, soak your corn husk wrappers. Fill a large bowl, pot or your sink with hot water. While it is filling, gently seperate and put your wrappers into the water.
Soak more than you will need. Some will be too small, some will rip (these you will tear up further to use as ties). If you have extra leftover, you can let them dry again to reuse another time. Put a plate or the inverted pot lid on top to make sure all the wrappers are completely submerged. They need to soak for several minutes at least.
Now, make the masa:
Ingredients (pictured above)
5 oz fat, preferably manteca pura or lard
12 oz stock, preferably homemade. If using canned, add less salt.
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
12 oz (2.5 cups) masa
Put your fat into the bowl of a large stand mixer, add a splash of stock, salt and garlic powder and beat the heck out of it.
Give it a couple minutes, the fat will lighten in color. Then with the mixer on its lowest setting, put in the masa flour and baking powder.
Mix on low until it is uniformly crumbly.
Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix a bit more. Now, turn the mixer on low again and slowly pour in the rest of your stock.
Turn the mixer up to high and mix for a minute. Scrape down the bowl again, including the bottom, and turn the mixer on again. Beat the masa on high for a while. Just turn it on and forget about it, you want to really beat it for several minutes at least, aerating the mixture creates lighter tamales.
1 batch masa
soaked corn wrappers
about 1 lb of filling
Cheese, cut into strips about 1/4″ by 2 inches
Pickled jalapenos, cut crosswise or into strips
After your corn wrappers have soaked, pluck them out of the water one at time. Some corn husks are available already cut, but if it is a full corn husk you will need to cut the stem end off about an inch.
Do this to a few wrappers and place upright in a colander to drain. Or, cut a bunch of parchment paper into squares.
Place a wrapper on a cutting board with one edge lined up to the edge of the board. Take a small amount of masa, about 2-3 tablespoons, with a soft rubber spoonula and smoosh it down in one motion, just off center of the wrapper.
Leave one side clean for about 2 inches, but bring the masa right to the edge of the other side by scraping the tool along the cutting board edge. This should give you a relatively even layer of masa about 1/4″ thick.
Put 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the masa. Add a strip of cheese and a strip of pickled jalapeno.
Take the edge of the wrapper which has the masa to the end and fold it over the filling to meet the other side of the spread masa. Pull it slightly towards you so as to seal the edge, squeeze out any air and slightly round the roll (life if you’ve ever rolled sushi, it’s a similar motion), then roll it up with the clean side.
Fold the straight edge down, fold the long pointy end up, and tie it off with a strip of corn husk (if you are using parchment paper, use kitchen twine to tie the tamales). You can see this in detail in the video above.
After you tie it off, place it in the basket of your steamer. If you keep it on its side as you fill it, you will be able to fill it to capacity. You want them packed in there not too tightly, but not leaving any extra room.
Here’s a fun tip: If you are making a variety of flavors, you can color code your tamales by dying your ties with food coloring. Tear some strips of corn husk while the husks are dry. Put a good squeeze of food coloring into a bowl or plastic container and add hot water. Put in the strips to soak. Let them soak a good long time, even overnight. Rinse them well before using, or they will transfer the dye to the wrappers.