I began a rainy, drizzly Memorial Day weekend with another wonderful class at The Pantry at Delancey. This time it was a tamale class, taught by Rob Tallon. Yes, I have made tamales before, and yes I have posted them before… and as much as I liked my previous tamales, I was always left thinking they could be better! I was right. The tamales we made this weekend were outstanding, amazing, delicious, and absolutely the best EVER!
The tamale adventure began Saturday morning, after a wonderful breakfast with visiting friends. While I had most of the ingredients in our pantry, we needed a few things – dry New Mexico chiles and additional corn husks. Knowing we’d be driving by Seattle Restaurant Supply, I decided I needed a proper steam pot! Being a good sport (especially when one of his favorite foods is at stake), Dave had no issues with the unplanned stop and purchase. Shiny new steam pot in hand, off we went to the market for chiles and corn husks, and a big pork shoulder. Finally home, we got cooking!
My recipes are adapted from Rob Tallon’s recipes from his class at The Pantry at Delancey!
Tamale Prep – Day 1
Prepare the masa
4 cups masa harina
3 cups of hot water (160′)
Mix the corn flour and the water together with a wooden spoon and then your hands. Let sit for a minimum of 30 minutes, or overnight. You can refrigerate for up to two days. Many Mexican shops have prepared masa, if you prefer not to make your own.
Soak the corn husks
Place about 40 corn husks in a big bowl or pot. Cover with water. Place another pot or bowl on top of them to ensure they stay submerged. Soak overnight, until soft.
Prepare the pork
3-4 pounds pork butt
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oil for frying
16-24 ounces of dark beer
1 tablespoon cumin
3 tablespoons chipotle chile powder
7-10 New Mexico dried chiles, rinsed and stems removed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
Cut the pork butt into 8-10 big chunks. Season all sides with salt and pepper. Add oil to heavy pot, heat over medium high heat. Brown the pork on all sides. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pot. (My pork was not boneless. I just treated the piece with the bone the same as the others.)
Add beer and enough water to cover the pork. Add cumin, chili powder, chiles, paprika and bay leaves. Simmer over low heat, until very tender, about 2-3 hours.
When done, remove the pork, set aside. Discard the bay leaves. Blend the braising liquid, in a blender or with a stick blender. Force the liquid through a strainer to remove the seeds. Blend again. Refrigerate overnight. Meanwhile, shred the pork pieces with your hands, removing any chunks of fat, gristle and bone. Place the meat in a bag or bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Tamale Prep – Day 2
Skim the fat from the top of the bowl of chilled sauce. Set aside. Add the lime juice, vinegar and sugar to the sauce. Blend to mix well.
In a large skillet, sauté the onion in the remaining oil over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the meat and 2-3 cups of the blended braising liquid. Let the mixture simmer and reduce. Adjust for seasoning. You may want to add salt, pepper and cayenne at this point. Once the liquid has cooked down, remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely. Warm the remaining braising liquid in a small sauce pan to serve with the tamales.
While the meat is simmering, prepare the tamale dough!
Basic Whipped or Beaten Masa
10 ounces cold butter or lard
* 4-6 tablespoons pork fat, scraped from chilled braising liquid
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3-4 cups of prepared masa
2- 2 1/2 cups stock – chicken or vegetable
Using a large stand mixer, whip the butter (and or lard) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the salt and baking powder and continue mixing. Add the masa in 2 ounce pieces, waiting a few seconds between additions. * Since I was not using lard, I added the fat I scraped from the bowl of the cold braising liquid. It added a lot of flavor. When about half of the masa has been added, start alternating masa with the stock, until all masa has been added. Add more broth is the mixture seems dry.
How do I know if my whipped masa is mixed enough? In a cup of icy cold water, add about a teaspoon of masa. If the mixture floats, you have sufficiently beaten in enough air and will have a light, fluffy tamale! If the dough did not float and seems a little dry, add a bit of cold water and beat again. Repeat until your masa “passes the test”!
Guess what? IT IS FINALLY TIME TO MAKE THE TAMALES!!!
Drain the water from the corn husks. Wipe the excess water from the husks. Set out a dampened kitchen towel to work on, and a small bowl of water to dampen fingers.
Spread the whipped masa 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick over the wider half of the husk.
Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa.
Pick up the sides of the husk, rock back and forth, peeling the masa in toward the center.
Roll the tamale to one edge, roll up like a burrito and tuck the end up on the seam side. Set aside.
When all the tamales have been assembled, tie them into bunches of three, for steaming. (Great technique, thank you Rob!)
Place your little bundles of joy in the steamer basket, as shown.
Add water to the pot (just slightly below the bottom of the steamer basket) and bring to a boil. Place the basket in the pot and steam tamales for 45 minutes to an hour. Check the pot about every 15 minutes to see if additional boiling water is needed. Tamales are done, when masa pulls away from the side of the husk. This was a very large batch, a very full pot and needed to cook for 75 minutes. Serve with remaining braising liquid and a little chopped cilantro.
Tamales freeze very well. Place them on a sheet pan in a single layer. Quick freeze and then place in freezer bags for storage. Reheat by re-steaming.