Tamales…If you are not Mexican, or living in an area that has traditional Mexican fare, chances are you’ve never tasted the pure comfort and flavor that oozes from a homemade tamale fresh from the steamer at a holiday feast. That cornhusk wrapped bundle of fresh masa filled with many delicious ingredients ranging from meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilis and more is a traditional holiday meal in Mexico and many parts of the American Southwest. Some say Christmas just isn’t Christmas without tamales.
Looking deeper into tamale history we learn that this handy, naturally wrapped food was more like the original “to go” meal. Because they were easily portable by hunters, armies and travelers tamales were popular in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations diet where they became a food staple and can be found in history dating back more than 7000 years. Today, with meal prepping more popular than ever, we say, why wait for a holiday, make tamales for packed lunches, quick dinners, snacks and more.
Our tamale recipe is based on a classic with a light herbed masa and rich pork filling and will yield approximately 50 finished tamales. It’s a very labor intensive culinary undertaking, but we promise, worth the work so if time is tight break the recipe down into manageable tasks by prepping meat one night, making sauce the next and then doing the assembly. Or, just gather together a group of friends or family and enjoy a festive cooking session, or “tamalada,” that will result in tasty “to go” meals for everyone.
3 1/2 LBS. pork shoulder or pork butt trimmed of fat
10 Cups water
1 onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoon Sleeper’s Ole Ole Seasoning
1 Teaspoon kosher salt
4 Cups Red Chili Sauce (see full recipe below)
In crockpot or dutch oven, bring pork, water, onion, Sleepers Seasoning, garlic and salt to boil.
Simmer covered for 2-3 hours, until meat is fork tender. (This time may vary in length with crockpot.)
Remove meat from broth and allow both to cool.
Shred meat using 2 forks, discarding any fat pieces.
Strain the broth and reserve 6 Cups of liquid for masa.
Add the meat to prepared Red Chili Sauce, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Red Chili Sauce
15-20 Large Dried Chilies — California, Anaheim or New Mexico
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Tablespoon Sleeper’s Ole Ole Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 Teaspoons All Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
NOTE: Double this recipe if you want more sauce for later and to serve with the tamales.
Heat oven to 350º.
Remove stems and seeds from the dried chili peppers.
Place peppers on an un-greased baking sheet in a single layer.
Roast in oven for 3-5 minutes until the peppers start releasing a sweet roasted aroma—check regularly to avoid burning.
Remove from oven soak in enough water to cover them for about 30 minutes or until completely cool.
Remove peppers reserving soaking liquid.
Put peppers and 2 1/2 Cups soaking liquid into blender with Sleepers seasoning, garlic, cumin and salt.
Cover and blend until smooth.
In 2 quart sauce pot heat olive oil and stir in flour over medium heat until it begins to brown—this is a classic roux.
Carefully, stir in chili mixture.
Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until slightly thickened. If sauce becomes too thick, add a little more of the reserved chili soaking water.
CAUTION: When working with chilies, use rubber gloves to protect your hands and skin. Avoid touching your eyes. When done, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water to remove any remaining chili oils.
3/4 Cup Unsalted Butter or Pure Pork Lard
6 Cups Masa Harina (corn flour)
1 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/2 Tablespoon Parsley
1 1/2 Tablespoon Cilantro
6 Cups Broth from cooked pork
50 dried Corn Husks
Prep corn husks by soaking in warm water for at least 20 minutes until very pliable. Rinse and remove any silk and pat dry.
In bowl or with stand-up mixer beat butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.
In separate bowl, mix together masa harina, baking powder, cilantro, parsley and salt.
Alternately add masa mixture and broth to butter beating well after each addition until all dry ingredients are incorporated and you have a thick, creamy paste, the consistency of peanut butter is perfect.
To assemble tamale take one corn husk and place rough side on counter.
Spread approximately 2 Tablespoons masa paste on the center of the corn husk—ideally the husk is approximately 8” long by 6” wide. When spreading masa make sure you spread evenly and all the way to the top of the husk.
Spread approximately 1 1/2 Tablespoon meat & sauce mixture in center of masa.
Fold in sides of the husk and then fold up the bottom and place tamale upright open end up in steamer basket.
Continue assembly until you are out of masa paste.
If you do not have a traditional tamale steamer use a regular vegetable steamer basket placed inside a large dutch oven filled with water just to the bottom of the basket. To keep tamales upright, place a mound of extra husks or a ball of foil in the center of the basket and lean the tamales around it. Bring the water to a boil and reduce heat. Cover the pot and steam for approximately 40 minutes adding water as required.
To eat top with your favorite sauce or salsa, sour cream, cheese, jalapenos or any other toppings. Serve with rice, beans or a green salad.
To freeze for future meals, remove tamales from steamer, cool and with their husk, place them in a freezer bag. To thaw or reheat, wrap in wet paper towel and reheat in microwave for 1-2 minutes until just hot or re-steam as instructed above.