Well we can now add tamales to the list of things that most people buy but I can now make. I am ridiculously proud. I would have never undertaken this on my own, I even highly doubt it would have ever occurred to me to try and makes them, but a wonderful fellow mama and friend got a craving and a crazy plan.
I am not one to turn down the chance to learn to make something new and a few weeks ago when I was asked if I wanted to make tamales I quickly replied yes! Despite the busyness of this time of year two lovely mamas got together and made a huge batch of these bad boys. Sharing the workload made it incredibly easy. I made the chicken filling, one of them made the pork filling, and another bought the lard and corn husks. Then we spent a child free afternoon (!) in the kitchen enjoying each others company and a delicious bottle of wine. It was some of the most fun I have had in a long time.
The tamales we made that day were delicious. However, since none of us had made tamales before, the recipe needed some tweaking to be perfect. Apparently I cannot leave a recipe alone if I can think I KNOW how to improve it. I lasted all of 48 hours before I whipped up a second batch of tamales in my kitchen while Little was napping. I had leftover filling from the first attempt so all I had to do was make the masa, assemble the tamales, and steam them. Easy peasy. And guess what? I was right- I knew how to fix the recipe. The second batch was perfect. You can’t even tell they were made by a gringa.
I learned many things in the process of making these two batches of tamales.
- You should make your own tamales. They are really easy. Time consuming but easy. A wonderful opportunity to drink some wine, chat, and make tasty food.
- Your masa needs to be the texture of thick peanut butter. We learned this wonderful description after the fact. The first batch was dry. The second batch was perfect.
- You should have about as much masa in your tamale as you should have filling. Your layer of masa should be as thin as you can get it. Keeping your hands wet make spreading the sticky masa much easier. Have a bowl of water next to you and dipping your hands in it frequently.
- This recipe calls for 4-6 serrano chiles. Serrano chiles are HOT. However your filling needs to have a fair bit of spice because the masa doesn’t have a ton of flavor. If it is so spicy it makes your eyes water (like it did to me) that’s ok. It WILL mellow and it will taste amazing later.
- Tamales take FOREVER to steam (1 hr 15 to 1 hr 45 depending on the size and moisture content of your tamales). This is a great time to sip aforementioned wine or clean up the kitchen.
I hope you make your own tamales. I plan on keeping this recipe handy and I’m sure I will be making them many more times in the not to distant future.
Green Chile Chicken Tamales (makes 24)
1 package (8 ounces) dried corn husks soaked in hot water for several hours before assembly
1 lb. (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Fresh hot green chiles, to taste (roughly 4 to 6 serranos or 2 to 3 jalapeños), stemmed and roughly chopped
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1½ Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
3 to 3½ cups chicken broth
4 cups (about 1 pound) coarsely shredded cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted, or rotisserie chicken
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
10 oz. (1¼ cups) rich-tasting pork lard (or vegetable shortening if you wish), slightly softened but not at all runny
1½ tsp. baking powder
2 lb. (4 cups) fresh coarse-ground corn masa for tamales
First make the filling: On a baking sheet, roast the tomatillos about 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft (they’ll blacken in spots), about 5 minutes; flip them over and roast the other side. Cool, then transfer to a food processor or blender along with all the delicious juice that has run onto the baking sheet. Add the chiles and garlic and process to a smooth purée. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is quite hot, add the purée all at once and stir until noticeably thicker and darker, about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the broth and simmer over medium heat until thick enough to coat a spoon quite heavily, about 10 minutes. Taste and season generously with salt, usually about 2 teaspoons. Stir in the chicken and cilantro; cool completely.
Second prepare the batter: With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the remaining broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a ½-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats, you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough of the remaining ½ cup broth to give the mixture the consistency of thick peanut butter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think it needs some.
Third assembly and steaming: One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out one of your chosen corn husks with the tapering end toward you. Spread about 2 tbs of the batter into about a 4-inch square on the top 2/3 of your husk leaving a border on all sides. Spoon about 1½ tablespoons of the filling down the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together (this will cause the batter to surround the filling). Roll the tamale together as best you can, wrapping the husk around the masa and filling. Finally, fold up the empty 1½-inch section of the husk (to form a tightly closed “bottom,” leaving the top open). Stand the tamales on their folded bottoms in the prepared steamer (you can use a vegetable steamer and steam in batches or use a large kettle style steamer). When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of more leftover corn husks. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1¼ hours. Watch carefully to make sure that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.The tamales are done when the husks peel away from the masa easily. Let the tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best-textured tamales, let them cool completely, then steam again for about 15 minutes to heat them through. Alternatively, microwave them for 45 seconds to a minute before eating. They will be steaming hot so be careful and enjoy!
Ps. I know the pictures show the pork filling too. I didn’t make that filling so I don’t have the recipe. Sorry for taunting you.