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Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Make Tamales for Christmas (and it's easier than you think)!

I love tamales.  When I was a kid my mom would buy tamales... in a can!  Hey, I loved them and probably should try them again. She would buy the small can that was about the size of half of a normal can.  It would have one big tamale in it, the can sort of making the mold.  Hmmm, sort of like a metal corn husk.  Later, I was exposed to tamales by my Aunt Lydia, a classy Mexican lady who knew how to make the real thing.

Over the years I've searched for the ultimate tamales, eating dry and tasteless versions in countless Mexican restaurants and taco shops.  I've come to the conclusion that if you want a good tamale, you have to make it yourself.  And today I'm giving you my secrets to making the BEST tamales at home.

Now the cool thing is that once you learn this skill, you join the ranks of Tamale God.  Women actually stop me in the supermarket when they see me buy tamale ingredients to tell me how impressed they are.  I'm not kidding!!  Just remember, the tamale code says you must say that making tamales is hard, that it takes all day, that making a bomb in your basement is easier than this.  Stick with me, but don't forget the code. 

THE FILLING:  The easiest way to make the filling is to buy a precooked chicken and pull - not cut - all the meat off the bones.  Now take some chorizo that you can get in any supermarket and cook that (with some diced onions if you like) and add in the meat.  Add some broth and let it cook down, maybe for 20 minutes or so, until the meat is all stringy.  Make sure the filling is super moist and bordering on wet.  Add some salsa if you want. I just get the stuff from the Hispanic section of the market.  Look, there is NO RECIPE for the meat, just make it taste good.  Add cumin and chili powder if you want, whatever.  Just taste it.  If it doesn't taste great now, it won't taste great in the tamale.

You can also use pork if you want, which is always a good idea.  Just take a pork shoulder and wrap it in foil and toss it in the oven at 300 degrees for 4 hours or so until it is falling apart tender.  Season up with garlic salt and cumin and follow the same instructions above.

THE MASA:  Don't buy pre-made masa!  Buy Maseca Corn Masa Flour. Don't try another brand.  This is the only one that I've had success with.  When you are making the masa soak the corn husks in super hot water and separate them as they rehydrate.  And see that giant tub of Crisco?  You need that (or pork lard, if you can find it) as well as some chicken broth.

Now whip it, whip it good.  Follow the instructions on the masa package and put the Crisco into a mixer and get it nice and frothy.
You first mix the dry ingredients (the masa flower, salt and baking powder) in a bowl and add the broth or water.  You want it to be sort of like wet cement.  If you're not a mason, think gooey and slip through your fingers if you squeeze it wet, not hard and dry.  Now put the mixed masa into the mixer and get it nice and light.
See the texture?  It's wet but not falling off the mixing paddle.  If it's too dry, your tamales will be dry.  To test it, scoop a bit onto a spatula and see if you can spread it like butter onto a husk. Now it's time to make tamales.

SPREAD, ROLL, AND GO:  Take the biggest corn husks out and pat them dry and use a spatula to "paint" the masa on the husk.  See how I didn't worry too much about the evenness or thickness?  This is not rocket science.

Now put the filling in.  I like a lot of meat in my tamales but be careful not to overfill or you won't be able to wrap it. See how I left some room at the top and bottom?  That's so the tamale doesn't explode when you cook them.

To wrap it up you take one side of the corn husk and fold it over, peeling back the husk so that the masa touches.  Now roll it like it's the biggest doobie you've ever seen.  That's right, roll it sort of tight and even squeeze it a bit to make sure there's good contact.
 Now I cheat and just fold over one end and that's that.

See?  Super easy.  Now repeat.  I like to spread out a half dozen husks and spread the masa on all of them, then fill them all with meat, and then roll them all at once.  This is like Henry Ford's tamale factory!  Wait, Local Wally's Tamale Factory???  I like that!

I line them all up on a cookie sheet so they don't upwrap before I cook them.  See that one with the extra masa?  I just couldn't stand to waste the last bit of dough.

COOK IT:  Put them in a steamer.  I use one of those pasta cookers but you can just put a steamer basket at the bottom of a big pot and put some of those extra corn husks at the bottom so you don't sog out the tamales.  They have to be standing up!  If you cook them flat they come out flat.

Now steam for 2 hours or so.  Seriously!  I know that seems like a long time but it's the law.

EAT:  And here you go!  Top it with some salsa fresca or go San Diego style and put some chili beans on top with cheese and sour cream.  See how moist the meat is?  Want to trade this for a canned tamale?  Yeah, right!

If you did it right you should have a dog praying that a tamale falls from the sky into his mouth.

Don't let anyone try to convince you that this is hard work, or impossible.  But remember the Tamale Makers Code - never tell anyone how easy it is to make these.  This will be our secret.

Gotta question?  Ask below and I'll get back to you.

Don't forget to visit Local Wally's Guide to San Diego and Napa!
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2 comments: said...

I'm going to try and make sopes tonight! Much easier than tamales, thats for sure, but still delicious!

*ehu. said...

I've actually had this can of Tamales, ONCE while I was broke in college far away from California. I thought it would help remind me of home....instead it helped remind me that I didn't have any Tums. No bueno!