I was running late for work the other day and realized I didn’t have time to make lunch. The forecast of sleet and snow all day pretty much assured that I wouldn’t feel like going out to grab something midday so I pulled a few tamales from the freezer and was out the door. It wasn’t until I had unwrapped my first pickled jalapeno tamale that I realized, I had not written anything about my efforts to make them a few weeks ago!
Depending what part of the country you are from, tamales may be easy to purchase at local restaurants and markets but I assure you that in upstate Pennsylvania, that is not the case. Thankfully part of my family is originally from south Texas so tamales have been part of many holidays and family gatherings growing up. I still get
blamed reminded about the first family gathering with Wifey when I forgot to tell her to not eat the husk.
Tamales are as much about the time and comraderie that goes into making them as they are the rich, flavorful and sometimes spicy result. Years ago, I put no thought into how they were made but lately, I have made a point in figuring out a pretty decent version. Slightly intimidating due to the time required, if you take the time to try, you can easily test them in small batches and come up with all sorts of tasty combos. This last time we went with pickled jalapeno and peanut chipotle chicken varieties. The basic prep is below but feel free to play around with these true hot pockets.
Night before: Very important! You need to make sure to soak your corn husks the night before in warm water. Let them sit there for at least 8 hrs so they become a little more pliable to work with and won’t tear. We soaked about a package and a half of the husks you can find in any bodega.
1.The next morning, get all your ingredients out and accessible. There are quite a few steps to making tamales so if someone is helping, you can both be working at the same time. You can also go with almost any meat but we chose a whole chicken and just boiled it in water seasoned with tbsp peppercorns, tbsp allspice, 3 garlic cloves and some dried orange peel.
2.Once everything is cooked through (about 40 minutes) remove the meat and let the flavorful broth cool for a little bit. As it is was cooling, we pulled the meat from the bones and ground our chicken in a hand grinder but you can shred or dice it depending on your preference.
3. Skim the fat off your lukewarm broth and toss it.
4. Now put 2 lbs. of Masa flour in a large bowl. Add the following dry spices to the Masa and incorporate well:
3 tbsp paprika, 3 tbsp salt 1 1/2 tbsp cumin (use fresh seeds and just grind in a molcajete) 3 tbsp chili powder 2 tbsp garlic powder
5. Now add 1 cup of warmed lard to the Masa and spice mixture. I know it doesn’t sound too tasty, but I prefer this in the end result over recipes that call for canola or corn oil.
6. After adding the lard begin to slowly work in 1 1/2 quarts of the warm chicken/pork broth, about a cup at a time. Work the mixture with your hands to make the dough. If it is too dry, add some broth or a little extra lard. If it end up being too thin, add more Masa. You’ll know it is just right when your end result is like thick organic peanut butter.
*It is not necessary but I prefer to wrap the dough ball in plastic and set it in the fridge for 30 minutes or so before proceeding. It helps hydrate the dough and also is a perfect gap for a shot of tequila and to make another batch of dough for a different type of tamale.
7.For each tamale, lay out your corn husk (some were really large so we ripped them in half so they were about as wide as a postcard). After that, just spread some of your masa mix in the center, roll the tamale and tie it off with a thin strip of husk.
8. When initially cooking tamales, you steam them. You can use a steamer basket or whatever method you prefer but make sure to keep about an inch of water (or leftover broth) in the bottom and to stack the tamales in your vessel of choice vertically. We have always found it easiest to just place the molcajete upside down in a pot and stack the tamales around it.
9.Simmer for about 45 minutes, checking occasionally, and you are all set.
Pickled Jalapeno Variety:
Add 1.5 cup of diced pickled jalapeno directly into masa mixture. Substitute pickling liquid for some of the broth.
Peanut Chipotle Chicken Variety
Before rolling, add a little bit of chicken on top of the masa mix. Also substitute 1 cup of peanut-chipotle sauce for broth when making your dough. We cheated a little here, considering how much work we were already doing and just tossed 1/2 c of prepared Thai peanut sauce and 1/2 cup of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into a blender for 30 seconds.
They keep for a few days in the fridge but as I started off saying, they freeze really well and are quick to heat up. You can top them with anything you want but I typically just put on a couple drops of Cholula hot sauce and commence scarfing. Buen provecho!