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
- 4 poblano peppers
- 2 pounds Monterrey Jack, grated
Place the poblano chiles on a foil-lined sheet. Place under the broiler and cook until blackened on both sides, about 10 minutes, turning once. Place the blackened peppers in an air-tight container, and allow to steam for 20 minutes. At this time, rub of the skin, remove the stem and seeds and cut the chiles into thin strips.
When making the tamales, take a small handful of the cheese and lay it on the masa. Add a strip of poblano. Roll!
Pork filling for tamales
- 5 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 4-inch cubes
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 8 plum tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 medium-yellow onions, diced
- 8 jalapeños, seeded and diced
Cover the pork in a large pot with water and add 2 cloves garlic, salt, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to low and cook uncovered until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. When meat is ready, remove from the heat and shred with two forks.
Meanwhile, as the pork is cooking, place the tomatoes and remaining garlic on a foil-lined baking sheet, and place under the broiler for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 3-5 more minutes. Skins should be charred. Place in a blender and puree until smooth.
Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomato puree and chiles and cook at medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the salt then taste and adjust seasonings.
Stir in the shredded pork, and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed and pepper to taste.