You have pots of stewed meat simmering on the stove, bowls overflowing with cheese, green chiles and refried beans, a huge lump of masa and a kitchen filled both with savory scents and a group of friends. Now what?
Before you can start making tamales, you need to soak your corn husks for an hour to make them pliable. If you’re feeling really creative, you can dye the water, which also comes in handy for identifying what fills each tamale—say a blue wrap for pork and a red wrap for beans. Natural dyes can be made out of herbal tea with rose hips such as Celestial Seasoning’s Red Zinger, turmeric or blueberries. When the husks can easily bend without cracking, take them out and pat them with paper towels. They should be damp but not dripping.
There are several ways to roll tamales, but I’m a fan of the tied-end method. It’s simple, plus the tamales look like little gifts, perfect for this time of year. To do this, first take some of the damp corn husks and tear them into thin strips. Set the strips aside because that’s what you’ll use to tie the tamales.
Now haul your wares to a flat work surface and set up your rolling station. The process is simple: take a corn husk and lay it flat. Put in a handful of masa (about 1/2 cup) and spread it around the center of the husk, leaving the circumference (about 1/2 inch) clean. Pour in a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of the masa. Take the husk and starting at one end lengthwise start rolling. When it’s completely rolled up, tie the two ends with the masa strips. Eso es todo! You’ve made a tamale!
Don’t be daunted by the mountain of masa, the rolling will move quickly. And the more people you have, the faster it will go. After you get the hang of rolling, it becomes almost second nature. Then you can concentrate on swapping stories or singing songs with your friends. And before you know it, you’ll have dozens of tamales ready to steam, eat and share.
Steaming is simple: take the tamales, and layer them in a steamer basket in a large pot. If you have a bamboo steamer this works as well. Steam for about 35-45 minutes. The tamales are done when it peels easily away from the husk. Depending on how many tamales you make, you might have to do this in batches. Serve and enjoy!
Certainly, a tamale party takes an investment of time. But the rewards are outstanding. Not only will you have a terrific meal (and hopefully lots of leftover tamales to freeze and steam at a later date, just when you need a quick fix), but it’s also very satisfying working in harmony with a group of treasured friends and family toward a common goal. A perfect way to celebrate the season.
As I’ve said before, anything goes with a tamale—you can get as creative as you wish. For fillings, two of my favorites are cheese and pork. I eat them without sauce as I feel that’s gilding the lily. But many people enjoy sauces on them, and you can use anything from a homemade salsa made out of tomatoes or tomatillos, to chili or mole. Don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong way to eat tamales, it’s simply a fun food that’s meant to be shared and enjoyed.
Cheese and rajas filling:
A couple of pounds of either soft, white Mexican cheese such as queso asadero or Monterrey Jack, grated.
4 poblano peppers blackened under the broiler for 15 minutes and cut into very thin strips lengthwise.
When making the tamales, take a small handful of the cheese and lay it on the masa. Add a strip of poblano. Roll!
Five pounds of pork, cut into cubes
A head of garlic, minced
2 onions, diced (2 cups)
6-8 jalapenos or serranos diced
Salt, pepper to taste
Cover the pork in a large pot with water, and add 2 tablespoons of garlic and 1 cup of onion, salt and pepper. Simmer until tender. When meat is cool, shred the meat and reserve the broth for another use, such as mixing in the masa. Set aside.
Place the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, and place under the broiler for 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Skin should be blistered and charred.
Blend the tomatoes with the remaining garlic and a pinch of salt.
Heat some oil in a pan and cook remaining onions until translucent. Add tomato puree and chiles and cook at medium heat for about five minutes.
Add the shredded pork, and cook for 10 minutes until it’s well seasoned. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If you decide to make tamales, let me know! And please share your favorite tamale filling.