Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tamale Masa hold the lard...

I was introduced to tamales from a very young age.  Like many hispanic households, they are a Christmas tradition.  My memories of my mother's sisters and cousins wearing chili stained aprons and flanking each other like a sort of motor less conveyor belt was no small event.  Some spread the tamale masa onto the corn husks, some placed the red chili pork mixture onto the masa and some folded and placed them into steamers.  Their method allowed for producing numerous dozens very quickly.  I loved the unique spicy smell of steaming tamales and then the act of peeling off the husks, revealing the tender hot reddish puffy corn masa and the delectable pork and chili within the masa.  I got to know the word Manteca even though I had no idea what it was.  I did know that it was an ingredient used when the masa was made. 

As an adult two things were ingrained into my brain, that masa had to be made with lard and that tamales were a royal pain in the butt to make, unless you did the conveyor belt method with many hands assembling the tamales.  As a result I stayed away from attempting them for many years.  When I finally made my first batch of tamales I added lard to the pre made masa mixture, soaked the corn husks, made a pork and red chili filling that did take a lot of time.  Because tamales freeze so well, I kept making them so I could enjoy them whenever I felt like it...soon I began to join the ranks of those that say tamale making is just too labor intensive. 

But I really love the corn husk wrapped delicacies and endured the work anyhow.  I wasn't keen on using's something that ads such amazing flavor, but it's not filled with amazing health properties.  Then one Christmas, a cousin of mine that lives in Santa Fe gave me some tamales that her neighbor had made.  She too loves tamales but not the consumption of lard.  She excitedly told me that these tamales were made with Canola Oil instead of lard.  I could not believe it when I tried them, the masa was delicious.  I begged for the recipe from her changed everything about making tamales for me!

I found out there was a tamale masa product in a bag under a brand called Maseca.  When I went to pick up the "pinkish orangish" colored bag (as she insisted) I realized I had seen this on the shelves of the Mexican Store that I frequented...but because of a horribly catastrophic experience attempting to make my own masa years earlier with a different brand, I ignored the product.  This brand, Maseca comes in two bags, the  white colored one I more commonly see at Sam's Club, Walmart and on the shelves of Mexican stores right next to the pink orange colored one which is not always available.  I tried to find out why my cousin's neighbor insisted on using one versus the other.  I was perplexed, two bags that say they are for tamales from the same since I could not get an answer I called the company. Turns out, the white bag is a finer grind of the corn flour which is better for making corn tortillas versus the pinkish orange bag, which is a coarser grind and made specifically for tamale masa as the bag implies.  However, many local creaters of the delectable tamale prefer the finer grind of the white bag...oh well either works! 

I was so thrilled that the masa that I made with the same proportion of canola or olive oil in place of the lard made such delicious masa.  And because I was making it, I could alter what ingredients went in, sometimes a bit of my homemade red chili gets mixed into the masa.  I also vary the flavor using different broths, although usually I use pork broth.  I am experimenting right now with throwing in a bit of blue corn into the masa...this is very exciting for me being such a lover of tamales...the skies the limit!

I let go of the thinking that I would only make them at Christmas time too.  Now I can decide to make a batch for dinner guests, without all the work.  Within a few minutes, I follow the recipe on the side of the bag which makes about two dozen good sized tamales making sure to use Canola or Olive Oil in place of the lard.  In my KitchenAid standing mixer, I process till the masa is fluffy.  Aaron now loves tamales just about as much as me. I vary the meat from pork and red chili to chicken and Green Chili or vegetarian green chili and cheese.  The making of the filling is the only time consuming part in making the tamales in my opinion.  A hot tip!  Leftover turkey at thanksgiving makes for wonderful tamale filling.  They are easily modified to vegetarian by use of vegetable broth and eliminating the meat.  I am also creating a filling with a wild mushroom, chili and cheese filling. Oh...and the best bang for your buck as far as the dried corn husks go is either a mexican food store or Sam's Club when they have em.

Delectable Pork Tamales

1 bag Maseca brand Tamale Masa flour (it will say "para tamales")
Make sure it is the Pinkish Orangish colored bag
1 package of dried corn husks
Canola or Olive Oil (follow recipe on bag for portion)
Pork Broth (created from the pork butt roast you will cook)
One Boneless Pork Butt Roast - any size..the bigger the roast the more filling you will have
(it freezes very well)
15 dried red New Mexican Chili Pods
5 large dried Ancho Chili Pods
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried mexican oregano
1 tbsp whole cumin seed
1 tbsp ground cumin
10 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp salt

The Meat
First get the meat started, this will take the longest
Place the butt roast into a large pot and cover with water
Add the bay leaves, 4 cloves of garlic - smashed slightly, 1 tbsp salt, the whole cumin seed and 1 tbsp of the oregano
Cover the pot and cook on medium low heat for about three hours or until the meat falls apart easily
Remove from pot and allow to cool and shred the pork roast with two forks
Reserve all of the broth, discarding the bay leaves, the cumin seeds and the garlic cloves

The Corn Husks
Using a tall plastic container with a lid - I use an oval shaped one that works perfectly
Place about three dozen corn husks into pitcher, standing on end, add boiling water to cover and carefully place lid onto container set aside
Be sure to soak a few more husks than you will need, to allow for a possible ripped husk or for combining two together if one is too small

The Red Chili
Be careful handling your dried chilis. I don't use gloves  but it's often suggested to avoid accidentally touching your eyes, nose or well you have heard the stories...oh and red chili has great staining properties so be careful in handling...or use an apron.  My blender is white so a soak of bleach and water does the trick ;-)

Take  the  dried  chili pods and split them open and remove seeds and stems
Place the pods onto a cookie sheet and roast at 350 degrees only for about three don't want  to burn your chili pods
Place pods into a big sauce pot add water to 3/4 full and add in remaining garlic cloves - slightly smashed and 1 tbsp of dried oregano
Cook on medium heat for 50 minutes
Place all the chilis and garlic into blender and add about 1/3 of the chili water
Blend till smooth, add more of the cooking liquid till the red chili sauce is a good velvety smooth consistency...not too thick not too thin
Taste...add salt and pepper to taste
If you feel you need more garlic taste, add granulated garlic
Set sauce aside

When you have finished shredding the pork, place into a large pot with 3/4 of the red chili sauce to the meat
Add the ground cloves and the ground cumin, mix well
Taste and add salt and pepper to taste
Cover pot and allow to cook on low to allow flavors to blend and intensify
Follow directions on side of tamale masa bag to make a batch of tamales or double
as I often do if you want to make about 4 dozen
I find the best most efficient way is in a stand up mixer, but you can mix in a food processor want the masa to have a fluffy consistency

Assembling the tamales
Create a work space on your kitchen counter where all will be within easy reach: 
a cutting board for assembling,
a bowl with the prepared masa, the container with the soaked corn husks
 (leave husks in hot water do not drain)
a bowl with the pork mixture and a spatula

Take a softened corn husk, shake off excess water
Place on board with flat end toward you and with curl face up
Place about 1/4 cup of masa onto husk and spread out evenly onto lower 2/3 of leaf
Place approximately 2 tbsp of filling on center  of tamale on top of masa
Visualise the unfolded tamale in thirds
Fold right side to center and left side to center
Fold top point down and place tamale onto a plate, seam side down
Repeat till all masa is used up
Freeze any remaining meat in airtight container or make another batch of masa and soak more corn husks
Within a deep steamer insert, stand all tamales on closed end so that open end is facing up
Make sure you have water in bottom of stock pot just below where steamer bottom sits
Cover and steam for 1 hour at medium heat
Allow to sit for 30 minutes
Take  the remaining red chili and take some of the left over pork meat and mix with the chili
Water it down with more broth it should be a bit watery in consistency
Add salt and pepper to taste
Pour over peeled hot tamales if desired
Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!

Remaining tamales can sit in air tight container for three days then freeze
I find the best way to rewarm tamales is by steaming
I have a microwave steamer that works perfectly whether from a frozen state or fresh

Ahora comer los deliciosos tamales!


1 comment:

  1. Nobody in my family makes tamale's or even knows how to, so I've had no one to learn from. My friend Kathy and I have promised to do this together so I'm printing it out and am gonna give it a try one day soon! Thanks for sharing.