un talmal, dos tamales

Now that my sweet lover works weekends at the fine Amoeba Music, I’ve found myself inspired to attempt cooking projects of epic proportions. Generally this is how it goes …

1. I am struck with a crazy cooking idea
2. There is no one around (namely, Jordan) to tell me that this idea is actually a little nuts therefore there is no discouraging the aforementioned crazy project
3. I purchase the necessary supplies to make the crazy idea a reality, often carrying way too many heavy groceries on my lonesome and cursing my ambition
4. I spend my entire Sunday in my tiny kitchen cooking up a storm while listening to Harry Potter audiobooks
5. I feed anyone and everyone who stops by my house

Well, the weekend was par for my new course and I decided to make tamales.  I’d made tamales once while I lived in D.C., but honestly, didn’t really remember how I’d done it. I did a little internet research (which, sadly, was less than fruitful) and decided to just give it a whirl. I know how to braise meats, know generally what ingredients are in tamales, and just made up the rest. I popped down to the Mission to purchase the necessary tamal supplies, then stopped off at the Whole Foods for some meat, cheese and veggies, and I was ready to go!

Let me put this out there right up front: Tamales are absolutely a cooking adventure of epic proportions. It takes all day, makes a ton of dishes dirty, and is no wonder why tamale-making is often reserved for holidays and is a whole family affair. Tamales are serious business.

But, I took them seriously and they turned out amazing! (If the photo above doesn’t say serious, I don’t know what would). I made two types: pork and goat cheese. Both were absolutely delicious! We enjoyed them with friends the day that I made them and still have a freezer full of tamales just waiting to be steamed.

The general cooking progression went like this: soak husks, braise pork, make salsas, make goat cheese filling, make pork filling, make masa, assemble tamales, steam. Now here we go!

White Girl Tamales, makes about 80 tamales

Begin by soaking the corn husks in a large bowl filled with water. The longer the better. This makes the corn husks easier to fold later.

For the pork filling 
4 lbs pork shoulder
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 onion, sliced
1 orange, zest and juice
6 – 10 whole dried chilis (I used California and chipotle chilis)
4 cloves garlic
olive oil, salt, pepper
1 cup sour cream

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Cut the pork shoulder into 3 inch cubes. I cut it into these smaller chunks so that it would cook more quickly. Salt and pepper all sides of the pork cubes. In a dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Brown all sides of the meat. Remove from the pot. Add the sliced onions and sauté until translucent. Put the pork back in and cover with vegetable stock. Add the orange juice, zest, chilis and garlic. Cover and braise in the oven for 3 – 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender. Meanwhile, make your salsas and cheese filling.

Once the pork has finished braising, remove the meat from the juices and set in a large bowl. Using two forks, shred the meat. Add 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup of braising liquid and then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the goat cheese filling
1/2 lb goat cheddar cheese
1/2 lb goat monterey jack cheese
1 onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper

Grate the cheese. Mix cheese, onion, garlic and sour cream together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the masa
1 cup manteca (It is labeled “butter”, but is actually lard. You could also use vegetable shortening, but you know how we love all things pork.)
3 cups masa flour (I used Maseca brand. Corn meal is not a substitute for masa flour. The texture of Maseca is considerably finer and it is also treated with lime.)
2 cups braising liquid or broth
1/2 T cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t chipotle powder
1 1/2 t salt

Instant masa requires liquid to be mixed with the corn meal. The instructions on the package suggested either chicken broth or water. I decided to make use of the wonderful, porky liquid leftover from braising the pork shoulder. These seemed like the authentic, Mexican grandma thing to do and boy was it a good idea. The masa was super flavorful and not at all dry. It was so good, we could have eaten it on its own.

Remove the chilis from the braising liquid and puree until smooth. Season with salt. In a stand mixer, beat the manteca until light and fluffy. In another bowl, mix the dry masa flour and spices. Alternate adding the masa flour and pork liquid. Mix until the dough just comes together. It should have the texture of a sugar cookie dough, but be slightly less sticky. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. You want the masa to be flavorful so it compliments the filling, instead of dulling the whole dish.

I ended up making three batches of masa to use up all the fillings I prepared. The recipe above is for one batch of masa, enough for 20 – 25 small tamales.

For the assembly 

I took pictures of this process because I thought that they would provide a better explanation. Robin was my wonderful hand model and also helped me fold all 80 tamales. She was amazing!

And then tie a little strand of corn husk around the tamal to secure it and repeat! And repeat! And repeat! 

Ta-da! You now have tamales! Steam them for 20 minutes (or 30 minutes if they are frozen). I served them with a tomatillo salsa, a pico de gallo salsa and also sour cream.