Saturday, December 24, 2011

RE-ceiving guests: A Tamalada & a tamale recipe

Tamalada is a social gathering to make tamales.  Since tamales are a favorite food during the Christmas season, many Hispanic families will get together for a tamalada in November or early December to make tamales for Christmas.  The above painting, "Tamalada" by highly regarded Hispanic artist, Carmen Lomas Garza, captures a familiar scene of a large family getting together in the kitchen for a tamalada. Image source HERE

A lot like the painting, right?  A few weeks ago, I went to a Tamalada organized by my sister-in-law, Yvonne, who is a great cook. Normally Yvonne has all our nieces over to make tamales before Christmas time.  This year she rented a professional kitchen to have the tamalada.   I hadn't made tamales since I was 10 and my grandmother, my aunt, my younger cousin, our housekeeper and I got together to make tamales. The 5 of us worked for hours just to make enough tamales for our families. I only did it twice until my grandmother decided it was too much work and we began buying tamales instead. If you have never made tamales, you may be surprised by how much work they are.  The reason people gather their family members to make tamales is because it is a time consuming process.  The corn shucks must be cleaned.  The masa or "dough" has to be mixed and prepared for use.  The fillings (pork, beef, beans, cheese etc.) must be cooked.  Only once the ingredients have been prepared, can the assembly commence.  That's where the family members come in.  They man an assembly line that would make Henry Ford smile.
MIXING IN FUN.  Although tamaladas can be work, they are also a lot of fun.  Since it takes hours to make tamales, a tamalada is a chance for extended family members to visit and really catch up with each other.  Above, two cousins are chatting and visiting in the kitchen.  My sister-in-law, Annette, is observing her cousin Missy's tamale rolling technique while opening a bottle of champagne.  Annette made a delicious fruity cocktail for all the adults to enjoy. 
SNACKS? A MUST! Since a tamalada takes hours, there should be snacks and drinks for people to keep them going.  For Yvonne's tamalada, she had mini quiche, filo dough stuffed with spinach, bacon wrapped shrimp and lots of freshly baked cookies and assorted cold drinks. 

COUSIN TIME.  Just like Annette and Missy above, my niece Makena and her younger cousin, my daughter, got a chance to bond as Makena showed my daughter  the tamale-making ropes. 

Now, it is my daughter's turn to show her tamale making skills.  It was funny to see my daughter making tamales at about the same age I was, when I last made tamales with my family.  It made me miss my grandmother terribly who is no longer with us.
DOWN TO AN ART.  I asked Hugh, Missy's husband, to demonstrate his tamale shuck battering style with this plastic trowel.  Normally, people use spoons to apply the dough/masa to the corn shucks, but Yvonne has a collection of these plastic trowels that she lets people use if they want. Hugh and Yvonne both claimed it makes the application of dough faster.  I used it and I honestly couldn't tell if it was faster than a spoon or not.  Since this manner of applying the dough was novel, I asked Hugh to do one "for the camera".  Hugh would get a large amount of dough on his trowel. He starts at the top of the corn shuck and presses down to smooth it out.
Because the dough has to cover the filling, you want a smooth, consistent thickness. You don't want uncovered areas.  Those would require a second pass to apply more dough.   Above, Hugh got a nice consistent covering of dough.

After dough is applied, they are set aside for filling, usually by someone else in the assembly line.

Here is what the corn shucks look like with the dough applied to them. 
Now, it is someone else's turn to add the filling by placing a spoonful of filling in the middle of the area covered by dough.  There are countless recipes for fillings.  The traditional fillings are pork or beef.  Bean are my own favorite.

Once the filling is added, then the tamale has to be rolled.  You start at one end and roll them and then you fold the top of the corn shuck down to keep them folded.

This was one of the tamale rolling stations.  I worked the applying dough to the corn shucks station.
I wanted to show what other fillings can be used so I got Hugh, and Yvonne to pull out the Oaxaca cheese and green poblano chiles that she uses in her tamales ahead of time so I could get a picture of them.  Yvonne makes a big assortment of tamales. She makes traditional pork, beef, chicken, spicy chicken, vegetarian, vegetarian deluxe, Oaxacan cheese & green chile, bean & jalapeno and shrimp cilantro.  For outside the family, she will sell her tamales usually for $8.50 a dozen ( $12.50 a dozen for the shrimp cilantro) depending on which filling you want.  If you are in the Austin area, you can email Yvonne to ask about making tamales for you. Her email is
If you want to make your own tamales or host a tamalada, I am giving you an Authentic Mexican Tamale recipe by Sherry (Reba's Mother-in-law of  Marriage Saving Pound Cake Fame <--- Click there for the best pound cake EVER!) since Yvonne's recipes are top secret.   Sherry and her husband Gene made a cookbook called "An Adventure From South of the Border" and sold it many years ago. The following tamale recipe is from it.  Even though I rarely cook, I *TREASURE* my copy because every single time I've cooked something from it, my guests have *raved* about the food. Seriously good stuff.  I will be enjoying tamales tonight with my family.  I wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

SHERRY AND GENE'S TAMALES - Dough with Meat Filling in Corn Shucks

Making tamales the right way is quite a project and cannot be accomplished in a short time. They are considered a fiesta food and are made primarily during the Christmas season or for special occasions. The final results produce a delicious tamale that is well worth the time and effort.

2 lbs. pork     2 lbs. beef     1/2 medium onion
2 cloves garlic     salt & pepper     15 peppercorns
1 tsp comino (cumin)     1/2 medium size head garlic
5 dried chiles anchos     1/2 medium onion
9 cups masa harina (3 lb.) or 4 lb. factory-made masa
1/2 lb. suet, rendered     1/2 lb. pork lard   salt to taste
1/2 lb. vegetable shortening     6-to 8-oz. pkg. corn shucks

Boil meats with onion, garlic, salt and pepper (not the peppercorns) until tender.  Strain and reserve water for cooking tamales. Grind meat on medium blade of meat grinder. Set aside.

Separate corn shucks; soak in hot water until pliable; remove silks. Trim 1/2 inch off pointed tips. Each shuck should be 8 1/2 to 9 inches long and 4 1/2 inches wide at broadest end. This will provide an area of about 3x5 inches on which to spread dough and have 3 1/2 inches at pointed end to fold over. If some shucks are too small, two can be overlapped. Save trimmings to line cooking utensil.  Keep damp until ready to use by placing between layers of damp paper towels.

Grind the garlic head with peppercorns and cumin in a molcajete (mortar & pestle). Reserve 1 tsp to add later to masa. Wash chiles and boil in water to cover about 15 minutes. Reserve the water. Peel skins from chiles and remove stems and seeds. Put chilies in blender with the onion and ground garlic mixture from the molcajete.  Fry the blended chile in 2 tbs. shortening.  Rinse out the blender with small amount of chile water and add to skillet.  Add meat that has been set aside. Salt if necessary.

Prepare the masa harina, following the instructions on the package. Use reserved chile water plus enough tap water if necessary, to make the required amount of liquid.  Add the teaspoon of reserved garlic mixture.  Salt to taste.  Slowly add rendered fat, lard and shortening. Knead until the masa is light and fluffy.  To test, drop a small ball into a cup of water. If the ball does not rise to the top, continue kneading. Dough should be spreading consistency.

Start at the broad end of the shuck, cover an area about 5 inches long and 4 inches wide with a thin layer of masa, spreading it with fingertips or the back of a spoon.  If necessary moisten fingertips to aid in spreading dough. (There will be about 1/4 inch on each side and 3 1/2 inches at the top with no masa.)  Spread 1 Tbs of meat mixture down the center of the dough.  A few raisins or slivered almonds may be added at this point.  Fold one side of the shuck over the meat mixture so that the masa completely covers the meat. Then fold the other side to the edge of the tamale to make the finished tamale about 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch thick. Then fold over the pointed end.

Use roasting pan to cook the tamales. Put a penny in the bottom. Pierce 1/4 inch holes in TV dinner trays and invert in bottom of roaster.  Place rack on top. Line the rack with several layers of corn shucks. Scraps will do. Place all the tamales in layers, folded side down, on bed of shucks.  Arrange loosely enough so that steam will circulate freely.  Cover the tamales with more corn shucks. Place a piece of toweling on top of shucks to absorb the condensation from the lid of the roasting pan. Pour reserved hot liquid from meat through toweling.  Make sure the liquid does not rise above the bottom shucks on rack to avoid touching tamales.  Place lid on roasting pan. Simmer over medium heat.

When the liquid comes to a boil, the penny will jiggle. It should not boil violently.  The penny will tell you if the water goes off the boil or is getting low.  When the penny jiggles, start timing the tamales.  They should steam about 1 hour.  If the water gets low, add a little more boiling water.  To test for doneness, remove a tamale from the top and one from the center of the stack.  Open them; they are done if the masa dough is firm, does not stick to the shuck and does not have a raw, doughy taste.  Tamales may be frozen; to reheat, steam in covered colander over simmering water 20 to 30 minutes.
Makes approximately 4-5 dozen.

No comments:

Post a Comment