This year Katherine wanted authentic tamales for her birthday meal. Well almost authentic due to her dislike of both the pigs head and lard which were substituted with pork shoulder and crisco. Tamales are a traditional Mexican meal served over the holidays and for a really good reason. Tamales will take all day to make and they make a ton, so why not have a bunch of friends and family around while you make them. Once steamed the tamales can also be frozen in the corn husks and then re-steamed when ready to eat. Many different sauces and meat mixtures can be used in a tamale and can also be used to pour over the finished tamales when done. For this recipe I went as authentic as my Italian genes would let me and this is a very close reproduction. I did jazz up the chili sauce with a mix of red chilies instead of all ancho. I also added some aromatics to the pork shoulder.
To start you will need one batch carnitas, four cups red chili sauce, about 50-60 dried corn husks, and one batch masa dough — recipe below. Tamales are always best if everything is made fresh that day so be ready to start about 10 hours before eating. The first step is to make the carnitas, shredding the pork and straining all the cooking liquid. Keep the fat that rises to the surface of the liquid. Also go ahead and make the red chili sauce while the pork shoulder simmers. In a large saute pan place two tablespoons rendered fat from strained liquid in the pan and add the shredded pork. Add the chili sauce and bring to a simmer. Add a little pork liquid and simmer until thick, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Now make the masa mixture.
This requires a special corn flour and really fresh pork stock from carnitas. If making a different filling for tamales use that particular cooking liquid in the masa mix.
- 3/4 cup crisco or other shortening
- 6 cups masa flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2-3 cups pork cooking liquid
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
Beat shortening with a mixer at medium speed until whipped. Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl. While beating shortening on medium low add flour mix and pork cooking liquid alternately forming a thick batter the consistency of cookie dough. Continue to add flour and pork liquid until all is absorbed adding more liquid if too stiff more flour if to loose.
Once the masa is mixed soak the corn husks in boiling water. When buying corn husks six ounces equals about 30 good-sized husks and another 20 crappy ones. Use a plate to press them down below the water to soak. You can find corn husks almost anywhere now but a trip to the Hispanic market is always fun.
Once all the base ingredients are ready it is time to form the tamales. Start by rinsing and sorting through the corn husks and separating all the small ones from the nice full-sized untorn ones. Store all of them in fresh warm water. Use the largest untorn wrappers first like this one.
Spread the leaf out flat. If using smaller leaves lay one over another backwards forming a rectangle.
Now add about 2-3 tablespoons masa dough.
Notice the placement of the dough in the corner.
Press the dough flat filling the top quarter of the corn husk completely. The layer should be a little less than 1/4″ when done. The layer should be even with the top and side of the corn husk as well. Like so.
Yes, really leave that much space empty in the shell, hence use the biggest corn husks first and start doubling up when they get too small.
Now add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the stuffing. This is skipping the layer of mashed potatoes found in some traditional recipes. I did this because it just seemed too much with the heavy carnitas and I was out of potatoes.
Place the filling in the center and don’t let any touch the sides of the masa. Now fold the corn husk making the dry edges of masa touch like a sandwich.
Press the edges together and then roll the top husk edge under the sandwiched dough mix between the bottom part of the corn husk.
Now fold the bottom of the husk up at the base of the flour mixture.
About halfway up the husk if you spread the flour right.
Now roll the whole thing over and….
Now repeat for all the remaining carnitas and masa dough. If done right there should be enough masa for all the carnitas. Either way stack the finished tamales in a pile and prepare the steamer.
I used my 12-quart All-clad steamer pot to cook tamales, but any large pan will work with a cheap collapsible steamer disk at the base. The Most important thing about the pot is the size of the sides have to be taller than the longest tamale standing upright plus the height of the steamer basket inside the pan. For comparison the tallest tamale I made this particular time came up to the top of the perforated metal of the steamer basket pictured.
Layer some of the torn little husks on the bottom of the steamer basket covering any gaps between steamer and pan sides if using a disc steamer. Also fill the bottom pot with enough water to come just below the height of the steaming basket.
Now stack the tamales upright along the outside edge of the steamer basket or the large pot with the open filling side upright.
Continue until all tamales are in pot. If there is any space in the center of the pot fill it with crumpled up corn husks.
Cover the top of the tamales with another layer of corn husks then cover pan with a tight fitting lid. Steam the tamales over low heat until done, about an hour. Remove from pan and unwrap if serving immediately. All sorts of crazy sauces and salsas can now be served on top of the tamales, but a scoop of guacamole and some pico are always good all by themselves.
Tamales can also be refrigerated or frozen for long periods of time in the corn husks after cooking. They can then be r steamed for later without much loss in flavor.