Making tamales never really crossed my mind before, at least until I saw bags of corn husks in a local international market. Something lit up and since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.
I’ll admit, my experience to tamales is limited, mainly to the frozen green chili cheese tamales at Trader Joe’s. While I could eat those daily, I cannot remember ever having truly authentic tamales (related: anyone in Nashville know where to get legit tamales? For, you know, research).
Once you’ve made the dough and mastered the wrapping process (basically corn husk origami), the biggest question is, what are you going to fill them with? Pork (carnitas) is probably the most traditional, but I want to see you get creative! I know I can think of a hundred things you could fill these with, from meat to vegetables, even fruit I imagine could work (10k bonus points for anyone who does a dessert tamale!)
Let’s just say this challenge is a hot one!
- Corn husks are used to wrap the tamales and keep them from drying out. In my mind they are what makes a tamale a tamale. I’ve seen these at International food stores and Mexican grocers, but you can also find them online. One pound of husks is enough for about 70 tamales. They will need to be soaked for at least 30 minutes prior to assembling your tamales (so plan ahead!)
- Masa is the corn-based four used in the tamale filling. It is made from dried corn that has been soaked in lime (the mineral, not the fruit), making it easier to work with and digest, and then ground into flour. If you can find a tortilleria near you that will sell you some fresh masa, that’s ideal. You can also used packaged masa flour, which is fairly common and easy to find in the international foods aisle of most major grocery stores. If you can find one that specifically says “for tamales,” even better.
- Authentic tamales use lard in the filling. I’m obviously not opposed to this, and still have some good stuff stashed in my freezer. If you can find some fresh pork lard (check with your local butcher or Mexican grocer) as the processed stuff in the grocery often has an undesirable flavor.
- Tamales are traditionally steamed, which means you’re going to need a big pot with a steamer basket insert tall enough for the tamales to be cooked vertically with the open side facing up. We don’t currently have a steamer (other than our bamboo one which I don’t think will work). Curious if a homemade solution like maybe a round cooling rack propped up in a big pot would work? Hmm…
Resources & Recipes:
- At a loss for where to look, I totally googled “authentic tamale recipe”. These Pork Tamales from PBS look pretty darn amazing, and the base could be reworked for different filling flavors as well.
- America’s Test Kitchen has a recipe for a basic Chicken Tamale (login required). Interestingly, their dough uses quick grits and frozen corn kernels for added texture and flavor. Also check out the helpful folding diagrams.
- Better Homes & Gardens has a tutorial for an alternative folding style, which might work well for those of us without big, deep steamers. I think something like this (since there is no open end) could work well in a bamboo steamer, no?
- This recipe from MexGrocer uses corn oil in place of lard in the filling, if you have dietary restrictions or just a general aversion to cooking with lard. Bonus: you can also buy all the ingredients you need online in a few quick clicks!
Make a batch of tamales (any recipe/flavor, but they do need to be traditionally wrapped in corn-husks… no tamale pie!) by Friday, August 29th and send me a photo. I’ll post about my own experience the following week along with a roundup of everyone who tackled this challenge with me.
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The Kitchen Challenge series is simply about getting in the kitchen and challenging yourself to make something new; you aren’t required to have a blog to participate, nor are you required to post about it if you do. However, if you do have a blog and post about the challenge, you are more than welcome to use the above graphic.