Tamales - Epilogue

I know I skipped some steps here, going straight to the epilogue, but the tamales were such an ordeal that I didn’t have the energy to tell the tale until days after.

Lesson 1, which needs to be learned and relearned, is read your recipe though – carefully. I think my confidence and exuberance make me skim a recipe, rather than pay close attention. Whatever the reason, I need to get better at this.

Lesson 2 is if your mind’s eye sees a bunch of women gathered together to do the work (think quilting, making preserves, making tamales), it’s usually because it’s a lot of work.

So I left you with the cornhusks soaking and the chicken roasted, on the first day. That was the easy work. I used Rick Bayless’ recipes, which you can find here.

Making the batter was pretty easy, so I started that at 10:00 pm, after My Girl had gone to bed and the kitchen was clean from dinner. It basically involved making dough in the mixer and letting it rest for an hour. I made the rest of the filling during that hour, getting the meat from the chicken, mixing up the salsa and masa (masa makes it thicker). I used Trader Joes jarred tomatillo salsa, but I added the drippings (fat scooped off).

Next thing I knew it was 11:00 pm, and I was determined to finish the job that night! I dried off the biggest and best cornhusks and cut kitchen string in about 9 inch lengths. Bad news: I only had enough for nine strings. My visions of 24 glorious tamales began to dash. Still I soldiered on, spreading a 4x4 inch square of the dough in the center of a big husk. I made a little dollop (1 heaping Tablespoon) of filling in the center and sprinkled a bit of queso fresco on top. Then I rolled one side of the husk onto the other side so the masa would meet as I rolled up the husk. I folded the top and bottom sides in and tied it up length-wise with the string. This took a long time.

I read more of the directions: Steam the tamales in batches, filling one layer of a steamer at a time. Steam for 1 1/2 hours.

Midnight. I have 8 tamales (one string was too small, so I had to tie two together) making one layer in the steamer. They cook for 1 1/2 hours. I call my girlfriend in California and talk to her for as long as it takes to steam the tamales. I do a bit of cleaning while I’m on the phone. I rationalized that I could go around the house looking for more kitchen string, but assembling more tamales would take hours. What if I spent all that time and they were horrible? As they say, eight is enough.

The tamales now have to sit for another hour and then you need to steam them again (for 15 minutes) before you serve them. I put them in fridge, cleaned up the rest of the kitchen, and crashed in bed at 2:00 am.

Jump to next night and absolute tamale bliss. I steamed them and then carefully peeled back the first bits of husk. Soft, smooth masa is revealed. I cut into it and have a taste. I swear, it is one of the best tamales I’ve ever had. It is magnificent, beyond my highest expectations.

Friends said I could have used the leftover masa dough to make a tamale pie, and I could have. The thing is, the steaming is what made them so incredibly soft and moist. You’d lose that with a baked tamale pie.

So I’ll be making these again, but next time it won’t be a solo affair. I’ll be doing it the way it’s supposed to be done, with some friendly helping hands.


The Tamale Experiment

After having one too many dried out tamales, where the masa was like cardboard and the filling bland, I am embarking on an experiment: Making My Own Tamales.

Day 1 - Procure ingredients

Most everything is available at Fairway, though it was a search for the dried corn husks. I had bought some for Esme to make dolls with years ago, but I had to ask four employees where they were. Turns out they were in their usual place in the produce section, hiding behind some dried chilies.

I had to ask about the lard too. It was above the pork products in the cold room.

Day 2 - It's a start

I roasted a small chicken with salt, pepper, and coriander. I decided to stuff it with a lime, which seems to have worked well. When it was done, I cut it up and saved the juices, making stock from the bones.

I started soaking the corn husks in hot water, with a plate over them to keep them from floating up.

It suddenly occurred to me that some cheese would be good, so I googled "mexican market westchester" and found Mariachi Loco on Central Ave. (the ugly, busy street that every city seems to have). I got the cheese, some more limes, some warm tortillas, and some pre-made mole. On the way out I sampled a chicken taco at their restaurant next door. Muy bien.