Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tamales

Rating: 5 stars
Prep time: Hard (but really, not that hard!)

When I was born, I had tons (and I mean TONS) of black, black hair. My family called me the "Gonzalez baby," saying I must have been switched at birth with a Mexican family's child! Maybe that's why I love homemade Mexican food. Then again, maybe it's just because my dad served his mission in Mexico and so I grew up eating traditional Mexican fare! Either way, these tamales were superb. Don't let everything you read about tamales being "tricky" scare you. These take some prep work, but they turned out perfect the first time I made them! This recipe is my own, after I spent about a day reading everything Google had to say about making perfect tamales.

4 cups masa harina (Mexican corn flour)
1-2 cups broth (I used beef broth made from roast drippings and my rotisserie chicken stock—and then when I ran out I used a little whey from the queso fresco I'd made earlier that day!)
1 t salt
1 1/3 cup softened/room temperature butter (or lard, if you have it!)
2 t baking powder
1 package dried corn husks

You can use whatever fillings you like, honestly. Traditional tamales usually have some sort of meat and chilis, but the possibilites are endless. They even make sweet tamales in Mexico. I did two fillings when I made them, both very simple and easy to whip up—for the first one, I took about 1/2 of a leftover pot roast and mixed it together with some queso fresco. Done! For the other filling, I boiled a chicken breast and then shredded it, added in about 2 ounces of cream cheese, and some seasonings (chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, black pepper, salt). They both turned out great! I don't like things very spicy, so if you want a "hot" tamale, use spicy peppers or more dried chili powder/cayenne pepper!

Put about 2 dozen corn husks into a bowl to soak. In a large bowl or stand mixer (I used my Kitchenaid with the paddle attachment, but a sturdy set of hand beaters would work too), cream together butter and salt with about 1 tbsp broth until it's smooth and beginning to look "fluffy." Add in masa, baking powder, and about 1 cup broth. Mix on medium until everything comes together. The final consistency you are looking for is sort of like dry peanut butter - it won't be greasy, but it will be soft and spreadable. Add more broth as needed. You will want to keep "whipping" the tamale dough for several minutes even after you have the right broth ratio; the more you whip your dough, the lighter and fluffier your tamales will be. To test if the dough is ready, take a small ball of dough and place it in a cup of warm water. If the ball floats, it's done. If it sinks right to the bottom, you need to keep whipping. (I probably whipped for about 4-5 minutes total). 

Unwrap soaked corn husks and spread out on the counter. Take a spoon (or wet hands) and spread tamale dough, about 1/4" thick, on the lower (wider) half of the corn husk (you'll want 1/4-1/2" of room on all three sides). Place a generous tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough. Bring one side of the husk and fold it over the filling (you'll want it to just barely cover the filling). Bring the other side of the husk over the filling as well, so that the sides meet or just barely overlap. (I actually was pretty meticulous and made sure that my dough seamed together on my tamales, but you don't have to be that anal if you don't want to!) Fold long (narrow) end over so that it covers the seam you've just made and makes it a nice little package. Place open side up in a steamer (you want them to all be standing up vertically, packed together). Note: The corn husks are all different sizes—at least mine were. So don't expect your tamales to be totally uniform in size!

Steam for about 40 minutes. The tamales should not be standing in any water, however, MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE REPLENISHING YOUR WATER IN THE BOTTOM REGULARLY. Probably more often than you think you need to! I thought I got to it soon enough, but I ended up MELTING THE BOTTOM OF MY POT! So if you're not using an actual tamale steamer, be sure you're not too far away from the stove!

Serve with sour cream and, if desired, salsa (and/or chili sauce, which is the traditional topping—but remember, I don't like spicy!). This recipe yields somewhere in the vicinity of 2 dozen.