Tamales: Roll ‘em up and Steam ‘em

tamale pot tamale xmas 2016

Okay, ‘tis the season for resolutions and here’s my humble opinion on all of that: I resolve crossword puzzles in ink and I usually have to resolve all of my physics and chemistry homework to correct mistakes. Because of that, I don’t really feel the need to resolve all that much at New Year’s time. But, I do I feel like I need to make a confession as this year ends. I really feel like a sham for this one and I want to come clean once and for all.

See, my brothers and I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We went running and hiking in the Sandia mountains outside of town; we went swimming in the Rio Grande; we got used to seeing hot air balloons in the air every morning in October. When we went to college, we ordered New Mexico flags for our dorm rooms and I wore a Zia pendant around my neck until it fell off (The Zia symbol can be found on the NM flag). One of my brothers even got a Zia symbol tattooed on his right shoulder.

We’d tell people how our state question was, “Red or green?” and then follow it up with the obligatory explanation saying that meant what color chile you wanted on your food. I’m pretty sure family feuds in New Mexico revolved around who answered that question, “Red,” and who answered, “Green.” I haven’t lived in the state since I was 18, but whenever I can get a free ear I’ll still recount stories of buying 50 pound sacks of roasted green chiles on the street corner in the fall. Then, spending all afternoon with family and friends peeling the chiles so they could be frozen and used all year for cooking. I still remember the feeling of anticipation of walking up to one of those street corner stalls with the huge metal roaster and smelling the earthy bite of the peppers as my eyes teared up from the smoke and the spicy heat. Another thing, I don’t mind at all retelling, is the story of the time the hot air balloon got a bit off track and landed on my middle school football field during lunch period. Don’t believe it when they tell you that those things have good steering, they’re really pretty rudimentary contraptions. I’ll compare anywhere I live to the New Mexican weather and culture, that’s just how it is when you grow up in a certain time and place. I am also very aware that my stories are told with a dusky pink filtered lens (the color of the Sandia mountains when the sun sets) and a generous helping of “those were the days.”

Yep, needless to say, we have a lot of state pride. That’s why this confession is such a hard one for me to make. You see, it was not until this year, in my 29th year of life that I rolled my first tamale. One of my brothers taught me how to after he made them at one of his friend’s weddings and we adapted the recipe a little bit to what we had on hand and what we thought would taste good. Of course the filling options were the traditional New Mexican flavors: red chile with pork and green chile with chicken and cheese. This Christmas, we finally chose to honor our heritage and make tamales ourselves. It is a food I remember being eaten around Christmas and remember hearing about the whole process in hushed tones of awe. Also, the official answer to the state question of New Mexico? If you’re playing along from home, you guessed it: Christmas (both red and green!). Anyway, the tamale making was an epic success. It is just the thing to do when you have lots of hands to help assemble food and lots of time to spend in anticipation of a delicious meal giving off amazing smells. In fact, I am not sure that I’ll spend another Christmas holiday not rolling tamales. That’s what the making of a tradition looks like. You’re going to have to make them in order to get a sense of what it smells and tastes like, though, YUMMMM!

The McDaniel Family’s Tamale Recipe

*You will need a package of cornhusks for wrapping the tamales*

For the masa corn outside:

4 cups of masa cornmeal

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoon chile powder

2 ½ cups chicken stock

2 cups of water

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Filling #1:

Shredded chicken (boil chicken breasts or chicken cut of your choice until cooked through and then shred once it is drained and cool enough to handle)

Green chile (from Hatch, NM of course)

Grated Colby jack cheese

Filling #2:

2-3 lb. pork shoulder roast (cover the roast with dry rub mixture and cook in crockpot on low overnight, then remove from heat and let cool before shredding and mixing with about 2 tablespoons of NM red chile powder for every 1 lb. of meat)

pork dry rub: 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons sea salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 tablespoon cumin, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 2 tablespoons chile powder (blend), 1 tablespoon NM red chile powder.

To make tamales:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Place dry cornhusks in the water until submerged and let simmer until they soften, about 1 hour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the masa, baking powder, sea salt, and chile powder. Then, add in chicken stock, water, and oil and mix until uniform. Adjust the consistency with extra masa or water as needed until you have a mixture with about the consistency of hummus (err on the side of gloppy, spreadable hummus).

Prepare the meat fillings as noted above or substitute with a vegetarian option (cooked spinach, green chile, and cheese makes a nice vegetarian tamale from my experience).

To assemble tamales, place a softened cornhusk on a plate and spread about ¼ cup of masa in a roughly rectangular shape on the husk. This should be about 1/4”-1/2” thick, any thicker and the tamale will be kind of corn heavy and the filling will get overshadowed. Put about 2 tablespoons of filling in the center and roll the tamale up lengthwise so that opposite edges of masa touch. Then, tuck the bottom end under. Place rolled tamales in a steamer basket, with tucked end on the bottom, and steam over a pot of boiling water for roughly 1 ½ hours or until corn has cooked through and begun to solidify (this may take some adjustment based on temperature and how thick your tamales are as well as the number that you cook in a batch). Keep checking them; you’ll know when they’re done! Make sure to keep checking the water in the bottom of the pot as well, it will evaporate as they cook and you WILL need to add more water.

Once corn is cooked through, let cool and enjoy your homemade tamales!!!!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kimberly
    Dec 29, 2015 @ 18:37:08

    More pictures!!!! Omg my mouth is literally watering as I sit here at work (sorry, boss!) reading your recipe. Mmmmm. When can you come here and cook for me Chef McDaniel?



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