Tagged: Learn how to make tamales

Jan 23

How to Make Tamales

Learn how to make delicious tamales (courtesy of AllRecipes.com)

Tamales are as beautiful as they are delicious! Wrapped and steamed in leaves, this authentic, Latin-American treat can be made in so many variations – just like the American sandwich! Served as a special occasion food, in part because they take time to make, tamales are steamed, cornmeal dumplings filled with moist, flavorful filling, all wrapped up like a gift, in a corn husk! First, let’s take a look at what goes inside a tamale, from the inside out.

Filling. This is traditionally meat – braised beef or pork – but, you can pack tamales with chicken, roasted veggies, cheese or seafood.

Masa dough. The dumpling or breading of the tamale, is made from ground corn flour, lard and salt. This doughy mixture is cooked into firmness through steaming.

The wrapper. Tamales are wrapped and cooked in a plant leaf – dried corn husks, fresh corn husks or banana leaves are common wrappings. This non-edible layer holds the tamale together as it cooks, and it gives the tamale its distinctive, authentic look. Before you get started, be aware that tamales take a fair amount of time to make. Some tamale makers suggest you may need as much as 2 days.

Day 1 – You cook the meat.

Day 2 – You assemble the tamales.

Others suggest that you make the tamales all in one day, and make a party out of it! Invite over your friends and family to form a tamale making assembly line. Either way, here are the tools to make tamales:

A dutch oven to cook the meat
Large capacity, 16 to 20 quart steamer to steam the tamales
Knife, spoon or spreading utensil of your choice

Step 1 – Prepare the filling. Most tamales are filled with braised pork or beef, in a sauce of spices and dried and crushed chilies, but you can use chicken, roasted vegetables, cheese, beans or seafood. Even make dessert tamales, filled with a sweet mix of fruit and nuts!

Traditionally, you simmer a large, 3-4 pound piece of pork or beef roast in a dutch oven with onion, garlic and enough water to cover the meat. Cook the meat on low heat until it’s tender and cooked through, for at least 2 hours. Ideally, you want to be able to pull it apart with a fork.

Once you’ve cooked the meat, you can ad spices and seasonings. Typical choices are chilies,
chili powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, black pepper and salt. Well, here’s how you season the cooked meat. Heat a splash of corn oil in a large pan. Heat on medium-high and add seasonings of your choice. Add the pulled, cooked meat and mix with the oil and seasonings.

Step 2 – Prepare the husks. Soak the dried corn husks in water for about an hour, to make them pliable.

Step 3 – Make the masa. Traditional tamale dough is a mixture of masa, lard and salt. Fresh masa is dried corn that has been cooked in lime water, soaked overnight and ground up while still wet. You can buy fresh masa. It makes the lightest, fluffiest tamales! Or, you can make your own masa, using Masa Harena – flour from dried out masa. If you use Masa Harena, you add liquid – either water or meat broth, to moisten it.

For light and fluffy tamale dough, whip the lard and salt with an electric mixer for a few minutes. If you don’t want to use lard, you can use the same amount of vegetable shortening. Add masa and continue to whip, adding water or broth, until the mixture is the consistency of soft cookie dough. How do you tell if your masa mixture is moist enough? Here’s a test. Drop a small ball of dough into a glass of water. If the dough sinks, it needs more liquid whipped into it. If it floats, it’s ready to use!

Step 4 – Wrap it up! Open up a corn husk or leaf and lay it on a cutting board. Spread a layer of masa dough, about a ¼ to a ½ inch thick. Then, spread a tablespoon of filling down the middle of the masa dough. Carefully roll up the husks so that the masa dough completely covers up the filling, and the parcel stays in tact. Use a strip of husk to tie the package closed. Pretty, isn’t it?

Step 5 – Steam the tamales. Stand the tamales upright in a steamer basket. Turn the water to high and steam over boiling water for 45 minutes. Remove the tamales from the steamer with tongs, taking care not to burn yourself. Arrange the tamales on a platter, and Dig In! Remind tamale newbies to remove the corn husk before eating!

Make a lot of tamales and freeze the excess. Tamales can be frozen for up to 6 months. Wrap them in a heavy, resealable plastic bag. To re-heat, thaw tamales in the refrigerator, and steam or microwave them until they are heated through.

If you’re craving tamales, set aside some time, invite over friends and family, and get rolling! Tamales are easy to make, when there are lots of hands to help!


 Phillip Gaines Jersey