Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays! Now Pass the Tamales

Merry Day After Christmas! Or Boxing Day as it's known in the UK. 

I think here in the states it is unofficially known as Stand-In-Line Day. Most of us still have family in town (or are the family that's in town) and have managed to gift the wrong color sweater, the wrong DVD in the trilogy, or the wrong book in the series. 

Welcome to the return line. 

This year, I've opted to give only gifts that can't be returned. Thus saving my family countless hours of selfloathing and depression. 

So, instead of spending hours standing in line - spend hours standing in the kitchen! It's much more pleasant there. 

And there's eggnog. 

Mmmm. Eggnog.

But back to the kitchen - tamales are great to make when you've got a billion extra people in the house. You'll need everyone's help to get them done (especially when you're each on your 4th glass of petite syrah).

Tamales are traditional festive food in the Latin American community. There are even folks out there who do nothing but make tamales - NPR just interviewed one

But they are pretty easy to make at home. They just take all day and use all the pots you own. No biggie. 

You'll need to find a Latin American/Mexican grocery store, as some of the things you need can only really be found there. 

Mind you, there are a million recipes out there for tamales - this is just a basic one. A good one. A "I-will-be-eating-2-dozen-of-these" one.

It makes about 100, or, 1 bag of corn husks - however many that is.

1 bag of dried corn husks
1 - 5lb bag of masa for tamales (it comes pre-mixed, but we'll be adding to it)
1 package of dried ancho chiles
1 - 6-7lb hunk of pork shoulder
1 - 28 oz  container of manteca de puerco (pork fat)
1 massive tamale steaming pot

The pork needs to be covered with a rub (recipe below), wrapped in aluminum foil, and cooked at 195 degrees for 13 hours. So, start it after dinner and let it run all night. It will practically fall off the bone when done. 

Dad's Basic Pork Rub:
1/4 c. paprika
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 tbsp. coarse ground black pepper
1/2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp Tony Chachere's cajun seasoning
1 tsp cinnamon

Once the pork is done, be sure to get out a glass container (or large cup) and save all the juices/fat that ran out of the meat. 

You'll need it later. 

In the morning, take the corn husks out of the bag and go through them. Any with an excess of brown hair/strings on them, toss out. Let them soak in a big pot of water for several hours.

Put a big ziplock full of water on the top to weigh them down. That way all the husk is in the water.

Take the anchos out of the package, break off the tops, and remove the seeds. Put the dried ancho chiles in a big pot of hot water. Let them steep (like tea) for several hours. 

Once they're soft, put them in a food processor and blitz the heck out of them, adding more water as needed until you get a soupy mixture. Add in some garlic powder, salt, cumin, and black pepper - to taste. 

Take the pre-mixed masa and add just under 1/2 the ancho pepper mix (all this is to taste - if you like less chile, add less chile). Also toss in 1 container of manteca and a good sprinkling of baking powder (~1 1/2 tbsp, I think). Some more salt, garlic powder, and 1/2 the glass jar of pork juices. 

Squeench the masa mix through your fingers, until all the little lumps have been squeezed out.

It takes awhile. Rotate squeenchers and keep squeenching. 

While the squeenching is happening, someone else needs to be chopping up the pork. Some people even grind it in a food processor. We just chop it up real fine. 

Toss in the other half or so of the ancho pepper soup and the other half of the pork juices. Mix it up good. 

Once you've got everything ready, drain the corn husks. Set yourselves up on the largest table in the house: big bowl of meat, big bowl of masa, big pile of husks, and a large empty pan. And lots of spoons. 

To roll the tamales, take a corn husk. Use your fingers to determine which side is smoother (has less prominent ridges). Put the smooth side up. Spoon about a tablespoon - or a bit more - onto the corn husk. Use the spoon to flatten it out, 1 inch from the top, and a few inches from the tapered ended bottom, in a ~3" wide rectangle.

Top with the amount of meat you like in your tamales (we used a hefty spoonful). 

Pick up the edges of the husks and join your masa rectangle's edges together. Roll the husk over. 

Take the tapered end and fold it up. You're done! 

Now make 50 more. 

Once you've got a quorum of finished tamales, let them steam for 45 minutes to an hour in a massive pot with a massive steamer insert. 

Remove from pot with tongs. Place on platter. 

When ready to eat, discard husks. Eat with green sauce, red sauce, avocado, whatever your heart desires. 

Happy holidays!


  1. I really like that you used the word "squeenching" :) Looks delicious!

    1. I thought you'd approve Casey! I bet you could make a vegetarian version... black beans? Though you'd have to use veggie stock and some sort of fat to make masa taste right. Could be worth some experimentation!

  2. I freaking loooove tamales. They are part of what I miss about living in Arizona. The soft, starchy masa filled with whatever you can imagine...pork, chicken, veggies, all in some kind of delicious sauce...ah! I need to make some on my own ASAP.

    1. I'll happily eat tamales for a week straight! So. Delicious. Have you tried the Guatemalan version that is wrapped in a banana leaf? They use rice instead of masa, I think. Those might be my next tamale adventure. Hope yours turn out as good as the ones you miss in Arizona!