Monday, January 16, 2012

Tamale Tutorial

I was taught how to make tamales by my mother-in-law, about 10 years ago. 
I have only braved the undertaking 3 times since then. 
 Traditionally, in my husbands family, tamales are made for Christmas,
where a large gathering of hungry people form a tamalado, or a tamale making party. 
 Typically there is an assembly line of sorts that follows a busy morning of
 meat preparation, corn husk soaking, and red chili making. 

The smell is incredible. 
The anticipation is more so.

This is a tutorial of sorts, my recent experience making tamales. 
I have no exact recipe, but rather a process, as that was how I was taught. 
 As with any of the other “recipes” my mother-in-law has passed down to me,
 taste is a big part of it.
  You can’t be afraid to just dig in and make adjustments as you go. 
 I took 2 days to make them this time. 
After making the red chili and pork, I had to beg for help rolling them. 
 Luckily my sweet friend Carrin came to help.
My parents came too, to help with the kids.

Red Chili Ingredients:
1/2 lb. Dried Red Chilies {I used a combination of Guajillo and New Mexico} 
1/2 Onion 
4 Cloves of Garlic 
 2 Roasted Tomatillos 


Clean the dried red chilies with a damp rag to remove any dust or dirt. 
Place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and toast them in a
 400 degree oven for 3-5 minutes, or until you begin to smell them. 
Be careful not to burn them, as they will have a strong bitter taste,
 and will be unusable then.


Remove the stems and pour out the seeds. 
While the seeds can give a bit of heat to your sauce,
I usually do not add them and instead use the
 Guajillo chilies which are bit hotter anyway. 


Place the chili pods into warm water to soak for about 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, peel the husk off the tomatillos,
and wash them to remove any sticky residue. 
Roast them on a dry camal or skillet, turning frequently to blacken all sides.


The tomatillos will look something like this. 
 Peel the outer skin layer off, and discard it. 

 Taste the water that the chilies are soaking in. 
If it is bitter, discard it. 
If not, you may place it into the blender with the chilies.
Place the ingredients into a blender:
Red chilies plus water, 1/2 onion, 4 cloves garlic, 2 roasted tomatillos.
Blend until smooth, adding water as needed until it is the consistency of tomato sauce. 
 Add salt to taste, just to bring out the flavors, not to make the sauce salty.



You can see how thick the sauce ended up here. 
If it is too watery, you can always simmer the sauce on low heat to
 condense it as much as needed. 
Be careful, as the deep red sauce will stain anything it touches.

The finished sauce, or chili rojo is very dark in color. 
 It has subtle flavors of the onion, garlic,
 a mild sweetness of the roasted chilies,
and a slight twang from the tomatillos. 
If there is a bitterness to the sauce, you can add a small amount of sugar. 
The heat level depends on the type of chili pods you’ve used. 
 I’ve seen my mother-in-law on occasion use the tiny chilies japones to add heat. 
 I like to combine chilies for the best flavored sauce, and have found that the combination
of New Mexico and Guajillo is the perfect amount of heat and flavor for our family’s liking.


We traditionally make and eat pork tamales. 
 Buy a pork roast, shoulder, butt, or loin with a decent amount of fat.
  Cut the meat into medium sized portions and place into a very large stock pot.
  Cover with water, and simmer on med-low heat for several hours until the meat is very tender. 
 You can flavor the broth by adding salt, pepper, onion, and garlic if you like.

Remove the meat pieces from the broth,
and allow to cool so that you can shred it into bite sized pieces. 
Reserve the broth.  You will use it to make the masa, or corn flour dough. 
 I place the cooled broth into the refrigerator, so that the fat hardens, and is easier to remove.

You can easily make ahead both the meat and the chili sauce,
so that the day you are rolling the tamales there is less to do. 
 This can be such a time consuming meal to prepare, so this is one way to break it up.

Just before making the tamales,
combine the shredded pork meat with the chili sauce in a large bowl.


You will need to buy some corn husks. 
I used 2 packages for this round, and had a few left over.
To prepare them, soak them in warm water for 2 hours.
  You can use a clean sink or large bucket,
 just make sure that they are fully immersed into the water. 
You may need to cover them with a heavy bowl to keep them under the water level.


Once the above steps are completed,
you are ready to make the masa, or corn flour dough. 
 The brand that we have always used for tamales, is MaSeCa. 
 You can start with the recipe on the back, but as with every thing else in this tutorial,
 you have to go by taste and look. 
 Pour around 2 cups of the MaSeCa into a large bowl. 
 Add the shortening or lard and mix by hand until it is crumbly. 
 Then you will add the reserved broth to stir it into a smooth, paste like consistency. 
Add salt to taste.  I usually warm the broth slightly before adding it. 
 It seems to help melt the shortening and bring out the best flavor of the masa. 


The finished masa should have a strong corn flour taste, like a fresh corn tortilla. 
 It should be smooth, and have a mild saltiness to it.
  If you run out of broth, you may substitute chicken broth or warm water. 
This is another step you will need to taste to make sure that it is ready. 
A bland tasting masa will produce a bland tamale.


Now you can start to assemble the tamales. 
Having 2-3 people around to help is best. 
Give each person their own job:
 One to dry the corn husks,
another to spread the masa,
and another to spread the meat and chili mixture, and roll the tamale.

Dry each of the corn husks well.
Leaving the bottom 2 inches of the corn husk empty,
spread the masa evenly onto the husk, in a rectangular shape. 
I think this is most easily done by placing the husk in the palm of your hand,
and spreading the masa with a spoon. 
If your masa is not spreading easily,
 it could be that it is too dry and you need to mix some warm broth or water into it. 
 Or it could be that your corn husk has not been dried well. 
It may take you a few times to get the rhythm of it, but stick to it, and it will come.
  Having one person spread the masa will ensure more consistency between the tamales.


Place a small amount of the meat and chili onto the center of the husk and masa. 
Then roll the husk, one side over the other, and fold up the bottom. 
If you have a husk or two that are too small you can overlap them to make a larger husk if needed.  Likewise, if your husk is too large, you can tear a piece of it off to make it a more manageable size. 
 I would advise against making too large of a tamale,
as it will take a very long time to cook!



After you have rolled the tamales, you can tie them up with small strips of corn husk. 
My mother-in-law never ties hers, and they always turn out perfectly,
 so this is not a step you have to do. 
It must be my inexperience, but I feel better when I have secured them with ties,
and have less problems with the filling falling out during the cooking process.


You will need to stack them into a double boiler, as large of one as you have. 
 Place them folded side down, with the open ends up to the top of the pot. 
They will steam on med-high heat for about 2 hours,
though you can start to check them after 1.5 hours. 
You will occasionally have to add more water to your steaming pot, so that it does not run dry. 
I place a damp towel on top of the tamales and then a lid on top of that
 and it really helps keep the steam in the pot. 


To see if the tamales are done cooking,
take one of them from the center of the pot and place it on the counter to cool for 5 minutes. 
Unroll the husk.  If the masa pulls easily away from the husk and is no longer doughy,
 they are ready to eat!  If not, then place it back into the steamer,
 and cook accordingly for 15 minute intervals until they are done.


Tamales are absolutely the best when they are fresh from the steamer. 
You can easily reheat them though by re-steaming them for 10-15 minutes,
 or toasting them on a dry camal, or skillet until the husks are slightly blackened. 
 My husband refuses to reheat them in the microwave,
and I agree with him - that method tends to dry them out too much. 
 You can also freeze the tamales in Ziploc bags so you enjoy them year round! 
 Or, if you’re pigs like we are, you can eat them all in one week.

I’d love to hear from you if you made them! 
 Leave me a comment and feel free to ask any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.


Anonymous said...

this is awesome! thank you!

my husband grew up in Southern California and he loves tamales, but I have no idea where to begin. He always says it would be a fun weekend project to do as a family...

I really appreciate the step by step tutorial and I just may try this.

Sarah said...

You should try them! I bet your girls would love helping too! My kids think it's pretty fun.

Sara said...

Maybe I will just come eat some of yours...cause girl that looks like WORK!! Yummy though!