10 (tamales) the hard way

10 (tamales) the hard way

I guess first and foremost I should say these aren’t what you’d call authentic tamales. I didn’t learn to mix the batter on my Hispanic Nana’s lap. There were no Mexican housekeepers bringing sacks laden with those beautiful little jewels when they came to the house. Nor, have I ever lived with anyone that made them.. I am the walking / talking embodiment of an Anglo/Saxon gene pool, and my childhood idea of a tamale came in those little glass jars stuffed with six paper-wrapped, cigar shaped cumin flavored cylinders. So, no instinctive knee jerk aptitude there.

I worked for a time with a South American construction company.
We ate a lot of tacos… and tortas… and tamales. So I know a thing or two about them. Well, I know what I like and don’t like about them. And, as it happens… I’ve eaten a lot of crappy ones, especially in Mexican restaurants.

For me- the masa should be dense, cohesive, flavorful – with just the slightest pudding consistency; the filling – plentiful, meaty with a couple of tasty surprises in it…. and there should be sauce. I’m less picky about the wrapper.

So… Tamales..
I knew I was going to cook something south(ish) of the border for Cinco de Mayo. But, with the constant rain the past couple of days, the idea of trying to keep anything crisp and crunchy, or getting anywhere near the grill for carne asada was going to be a bust. I opted for something worry-free and easy:

I had masa on hand. There was meat for a filling. I even had some fresh corn husks hanging out in the fridge still on their respective ears… so how hard could it be.

Most of the recipes I researched involved a long process of whipping the lard and folding in the masa. Just so you know, I split the masa in half and tried it both  ways…. it doesn’t make any difference.  What does make a difference is hydrating your dough.

The trouble I have with the majority of tamales is that the masa capsule is d – r – y when everything finally comes out of the steamer. Most of the recipes I poured over had you mixing everything together just before you assembled the packets. I found that by mixing up the dough, covering it and letting it sit in the fridge overnight fixes that problem. And as a side note – I don’t use baking powder. I found that leavening in the dough makes the tamales rather spongy for my tastes.

Since I was going to be behind the 8-ball getting all the components ready to make tamales first thing Sunday morning, I needed a way to quickly cook and infuse flavor into the meat filling – enter Mr. Pressure Cooker.

The pork was cooked in record time (30 minutes), and after a little shredding action…

It was all ready to go.

Let’s talk wrappers for a minute.
I’ve used dried husks, parchment paper, tin foil (hell, even Coffee Filters) in the past. And while the husky things are probably the most attractive for serving purposes; there just isn’t a lot of flavor there. Not to mention they’re damned fussy and outright difficult to manage. But since I had the green husks I figured they would, at the very least, add some corny goodness to the tamale while they steamed – if not just being easier to handle. Yes, they were easy… yes, they smelled wonderful while they cooked and I could imagine tons of corn husk flavor permeating it’s way through those masa boats. But after all was said and done – it really made no difference. They tasted like every other tamale I’ve made.
The moral of that story? Save yourself immeasurable amounts of trouble soaking husks and trying to figure out what to do with a 1/2 package of leftover dried husks – and use parchment paper.

Just so you all know – yes, these are Gluten Free.
10 Tamales
yes, 10. After all that work I got 10 (ten) little pouches of heaven. No wonder they cost the earth when you get them out at a restaurant.
Serves 4
For the Dough:
2 Cups Masa Flour
2 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Lard
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

1 Teaspoon Chili Powder
For the Filling:
1 Pound Pork – Cut into Chunks, or 2 good-sized Blade Chops
2 Cups Water
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Hot Sauce
1 Tablespoon Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic
1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1 Bay Leaf
1 Large Onion – Peeled and Quartered
For the Sauce:
All Retained Liquid
2 Large Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1/2 Cup Diced Onion
1/2 Cup Diced Bell Pepper
2 Cups Chicken Stock
2 Tablespoons Masa Flour
For Assembly:
1/2 Cup Chick Peas
1/2 Cup Pitted and Stuffed Olives
10 10″ x 10″ squares of Parchment Paper – or – 20 Corn Husks (Fresh, or dried and soaked)
Ball of Twine
Pressure Cooker
Stock Pot
Tin Foil
Steamer Basket
Stick Blender (or regular Blender)
Amazon.com Widgets

The day before:

In a large bowl, cut together the masa and lard with a fork until you have pea-sized granules of mix.
Add the spices and stock and mix well – you should have something about the consistency of peanut butter.
Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight.

The next day:

Place the pork and all the filling ingredients in the pressure cooker, seal, and cook for 45 minutes.
When finished, Carefully release the steam, remove the meat (retaining all the liquid and other stuff in the cooker) and let cool down until it’s easy to handle
With the back of a fork, shred the meat into fine pieces. (See the above pic)
Set Aside
With the retained pressure cooker liquid, Add the remaining sauce ingredients (except the masa flour) to the pot.
Seal and pressure cook for 1 hour.
Again, carefully release the pressure and allow to sit.

To Assemble:

Place a husk, or square of parchment on a flat surface
Spread 2 tablespoons of the dough in the center of the wrapper, making a 1/8″ thick rectangle
Place 2 tablespoons of the meat with a couple of chickpeas and 2 olives on the dough and top with another tablespoon of the masa dough.
Fold the sides up – rolling the dough packet together and seal, Fold the ends over the sides and secure both directions with twine.
repeat… repeat… repeat…

To Cook:

In the stock pot, Place 5 Baseball-sized balls of tin foil in the bottom of the pot.
Add enough water to come to the top of the foil balls
Add 2 Tablespoons of SALT to the water
Place the steamer basket over the foil balls and stand the tamales on end around the sides of the pot. (I’ve used a small inverted bowl in the center to keep all the tamales on end.)
Bring the water to a boil, Cover, reduce the heat to medium low and steam for 4 hours.

For the Sauce:

While the tamales are steaming (they aren’t going to need anything from you for a while – that’s why we increased the amount of water in the stock pot), Open the pressure cooker and puree the contents with the stick blender
Strain the liquid into a medium sauce pan and add the 2 tablespoons of Masa Flour
Whisk to combine
Cook over medium heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking

Now, yes you can stop here, serve up a big plate of 10 tamales with a gravy boat of sauce and call it a day. But – like I said – I like my tamales wet.

So, once the tamales have finished steaming, preheat the oven to 375, place the tamales and the sauce in a shallow baking dish, cover with tin foil, and bake at 375 for 35 minutes… just enough time to allow the sauce to permeate into the masa a bit.
Then have at ’em.

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