Traditional tamales

Pay homage with tamales

Originally appeared in the May 05, 2011 edition of the Southside Times.

My first foodservice job was at a Mexican restaurant, so I’m biased when it comes to the aforementioned fare.  Often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo honors the Mexican victory over French troops in Puebla in 1862.  Like many facets of the Mexican food-culture, Americans have discovered that Cinco de Mayo is much more than half-priced margaritas.  Read more after the jump:I asked one of my students, who happens to hail from Hispanic lineage, what his family would prepare as part of a traditional Cino de Mayo celebration.  I had a suspicion about what he might say, and his response confirmed my guess:  tamales.

Aside from the corn husk (discarded before eating), the most distinct feature of tamales is the masa.  Functioning as a dense and savory shell during the steaming process, masa harina is dried corn that has been finely ground to a flour-like consistency.  Both husk and masa underscore the deep-rooted importance of corn, which was a sacred plant to the Aztecs.

Have fun with this, set up an assembly line, get the kids involved; because that’s another beloved element in the food traditions of Mexico—family.

Traditional tamales

Yields about 1 dozen

  • Approximately 12 dry corn husks, steamed or boiled
  • As needed, kitchen twine
  • 2 chicken thighs, 2 chicken drumsticks
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 ¼ quart water
  • As needed, vegetable oil
  • ½ onion, fine chop
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ Serrano chile, minced

Masa (corn dough)

  • 7 ½ ounces (about 1 ¾ cups) masa harina
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounces lard
  • 1 – 2 cups reserved chicken liquid

1.  In a high-sided pot, combine chicken with all spices and water.  Bring to boil and simmer until chicken falls away from bone.  Remove chicken, reserve (also reserve cooking liquid, you’ll need it for masa); cool meat thoroughly before shredding.  Meanwhile, in sauté pan, heat vegetable oil and sauté onion, garlic and chile.  Add to shredded chicken.

2.  For dough:  in a bowl combine masa with baking powder, salt, and lard.  Pour in just enough liquid to form a dough that can be handled.  Using pliable corn husks, place a small amount of masa on inside of husk, and spread out to disc shape.

Place small amount of chicken mixture on dough, and roll up to a tube shape; secure with twine.  Arrange tamales open-end up on a steamer basket in a high-sided pot, and steam for approximately 1 hour (or until masa pulls away from husk).

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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