Tamales are a simple food that takes a little time to master and a little time to get comfortable with the way the dough, or masa, is supposed to feel. Masa is actually the word for soft corn flour, but yet it is also the word for the finished product. Depending on how thick or thin the dough is, you can make anything from taco’s pupusas, tortillas and tamales. Like all dough it has a few simple ingredients, flour (masa), fat (lard) and water, easy peasey.
The only kicker that you must try and do is to soak the cornhusks overnight. If you forget, try and let them sit in fairly warm water for at least three hours.
There are many fillings for tamales, some familiar and classic, and some not so much. As with all Great Ethnic Home Cooks, one must start with a great foundation in order to spread your proverbial cooking wings. An incredibly classic filling is: Chile Verde, which translates to Stewed Pork in a Green Sauce
2 cups Masaeca Nixta Masa
1/2 cup melted lard, rendered bacon fat, butter or olive oil
1 cup of room temperature water
1 kg pork butt, I like local and/or organic cut into a small dice around 1/4-inch cubes
2 tbsp lard or olive oil
2 tbsp No. 7 Dried Spice Blend or 1 tbsp of Cumin
1 smashed garlic clove
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5 peeled tomatillos, quartered
1 medium onion, quartered
1 clove of garlic
3 tbsp of No. 7 Jalapeno Hot Sauce
1 bunch of washed and roughly chopped cilantro (optional)
1/4 cup water
Tamale base, or masa recipe:
In a bowl, add flour, fat and half a cup of water. Begin to mix with your hand. The dough should be sticky and not at all dry so continue to add water until the dough is sticky, but comes off your hands easily.
Now cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
In a pot, add lard or oil and warm.
Add pork and turn heat to medium. You almost want to blanche the meat, not brown it.
Add salt, pepper and garlic.
After 10 minutes, add the Salsa Verde (recipe below). Cover and simmer for about two hours or until pull apart meltingly tender. Allow to cool.
Lightly toss to coat everything. Add goat cheese and lightly toss again
Place equal amounts of bruschetta mixture on each “toast”
Add all ingredients for the Salsa Verde to a blender
Blend until smooth and pour over the meat at the correct time in the recipe above.
Add salt, pepper and garlic.
Let’s put everything together:
In your hand, place a cornhusk with the outer side down.
Take a heaping tablespoon of masa and coat the entire husk except one inch of the narrow tip in a 1/8-inch smear of the masa.
Add a tablespoon of the pork running vertical along the masa leaving a little folding room on each end.
Now one side will have more masa exposed. Fold this side in halfway, now the narrow base and then the other side.
Seal the top by squeezing it together. If you don’t have enough masa to seal the top, just add a bit. Stand all the little tamales in a bowl until they are all done. This recipe should yield you around 25 tamales.
Once they are all complete, place them in a steamer standing upright so the filling doesn’t ooze out.
Tamales need to steam over a low heat for two hours. Check them after an hour and a half by opening one up and giving a taste. The filling should be soft, yet firm and taste cooked.
To serve the tamales, have on hand some more of the Salsa Verde or No.7 Jalapeno Hot Sauce and some Crema in a squeeze bottle if possible. Crema is a thinner, saltier version of sour cream.
Last, but certainly not least, is Cotija, a cheese similar to paneer or haloumi we will use to grate on top of the tamal. Take a steamed hot tamal and remove the husk. Place it on a plate and spoon over a good amount of Salsa Verde then a pretty little drizzle of Crema and a dusting of Cotija.