Twelve Days of Christmas: How To Make Tamales

Getting to the finished product is a long process

Getting to the finished product is a long process

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.

The consistency of play dough is right on

The consistency of play dough is right on

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.

Masa

  • 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.

Or take a walk in the neighbors field depending on where you live

Or take a walk in the neighbors field depending on where you live

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.

Use my hands as a size reference

Use my hands as a size reference

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.

About a 1/4 cup

About a 1/4 cup

Notice the placement of the dough in the corner.

The same as a swedish massage really

The same as a Swedish massage really

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.

An ariel view of the drop site

An aerial view of the drop site

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.

Or a heaping spoonful as I like to call it

Or a heaping spoonful as I like to call it

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.

Went to the side view to really illustrate that point

Went to the side view to really illustrate that point

Press the edges together and then roll the top husk edge under the sandwiched dough mix between the bottom part of the corn husk.

Just ever so gentle like

Just ever so gentle like

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.

Tuck you in all cozy like

Tuck you in all cozy like

Now roll the whole thing over and….

Wait for it

Wait for it

……………

Microwave burrito be scared

Microwave burrito be scared

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.

All Clad is the snizzle

All Clad is the snizzle

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.

Layer away

Layer away

Now stack the tamales upright along the outside edge of the steamer basket or the large pot with the open filling side upright.

Starting to come together now

Starting to come together now

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.

Do you see the empty husks there

Do you see the empty husks there

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.

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About Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

This blog attempts to collect some of the things I try to create with food and booze. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. My hope is to entertain and maybe help people think a little harder about what they decide to eat and drink.
This entry was posted in Dinner, Food, How to, Mexican, Pork and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Twelve Days of Christmas: How To Make Tamales

  1. Angeline M says:

    You are one brave man! I am a very bad Mexican, and never make my own tamales…you know that taqueria I commented about previously on your horchata blog? Um hm….get my Christmas tamales there every year. I’m glad you left out the potatoes…I’ve never heard of putting mashed potatoes in a tamale, but then, why not?

  2. A_Boleyn says:

    I’ve only made my own tamales once and they were amazing … and much easier than I feared. Plus, I made a ton at one time which I froze for reheating over the next several months.

  3. Ruth says:

    Happy Birthday Katherine. I think the series of How to Make Tamale nstructions will be popping up on google for years to come and guide others in the method. I think I saw a beer, peeking, to help the making.

  4. Brithday greetings Katherine – you are one very lucky woman 🙂

  5. These look fabulous. So hard to find good tamales. Happy Birthday Katherine!

  6. Thank you for turning this into a tutorial! I’ll be giving this a try in early 2015! North Carolina does NOT know what Mexican food is!

  7. Michelle says:

    I’ve always loved the idea of having a tamale party. But I’m such a control freak. 🙂 We haven’t made them in years. Thanks for reminding me. (And try to talk Katherine into reconsidering the lard aversion, now that you can buy great stuff at farmers’ markets.)

  8. Pingback: Sunday Suppers: A Mexican Feast | Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

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