Tamales. Those lovely little corn-wrapped packets of deliciousness. How we love them!
And, while time-consuming, they aren’t that difficult to make. No, really. They aren’t. We just made some for Christmas, and they came out so very tasty. So, I thought I’d attempt to recreate the recipe for you. I say attempt, as my mother & I were working on them together & we did the ‘add a little of this, a little of that’ method of cooking. But this will be a close approximation, and a good basic framework for you.
For the filling:
6-8 lbs pork or chicken, fat & bones trimmed off, cut into small pieces* 2 Poblano chilis, diced & seeded
1 jalapeno, diced & seeded
3 Anaheim, diced & seeded
8 baby sweet bell peppers, diced & seeded
3 sweet onions, diced
1 bulb garlic, minced
2 Tbsp lime infused olive oil
Mexican Oregano – a decent amount
fresh cracked black pepper
Cumin powder – lots
2 packages queso fresco, thinly sliced or crumbled
*you can cook the bones & fat in some water to make a delicious bone broth to use in the masa later.
For the Masa – double this, but make 1 batch at a time
6 cups masa harina
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt (I substituted 1/2 teaspoon of cajun seasoning in here)
1 cup lard, room temperature
3-4 cups liquid**
white pepper, cumin, cajun seasoning, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc
corn husks, soaked
**For the liquid in the masa, I used a combination of homemade chicken broth and the excess liquid from the green chili that went inside it. I think I ended up using around 4-1/2 cups of liquid for each batch, and we made 2 batches with this amount of green chili.
Cut the meat into small cubes – we did 1″x 1/2″ pieces – and brown it in batches in a skillet. Once it’s browned, put it into a large stockpot and set aside. I covered each batch in a mix of cumin, white pepper and mexican oregano while the first side was cooking, almost as thick as if it had been coated in flour before browning. Almost.
When the meat is done, pour the lime oil into the pan, and add the onions & chilis. Cook these until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic & cook until the onions & peppers are starting to brown nicely, around 2-3 minutes longer.
Cut half of the tomatillos into quarters (and core out the stem, if you prefer). Put them into a blender & puree. Dice the other half into small pieces & add to the onion/pepper mixture to brown the skins just a bit.
Pour the puree over the mixture & allow to cook down for a minute or two.
At this point I scooped portions of the mixture back into the blender & pureed it in batches until it was mostly pureed. I left a few chunks, but they were pretty small to start with.
When it’s all pureed, pour it into the stock pot with the meat and stir it down through.
Put the stock pot into the oven set at 200F and bake for 9 hours, or overnight. Trust me on this one.
You can serve the green chili as is at this point – it’s delicious – or use it as tamale filling.
For the masa:
The masa ingredients are for one batch of tamales, while the filling will do two batches. But making a double batch of the masa gets a bit hard to combine.
In a large bowl, combine 6 cups masa harina, 1 tablespoon (or so) chili powder, 1/2 tablespoon (or so) white pepper, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 teaspoon (-ish) cajun seasoning, a dash each of nutmeg and cinnamon. You are flavoring the corn here, so adjust the quantities according to how flavorful you want it to be.
Cut in 1 cup of lard. Yes lard. Not butter. Not coconut oil. Not crisco. Actual lard. It needs it.
Add in the liquid. I strained some of the juice off of the green chili that had been baked overnight, and was able to get around 3 cups, to which I added 1.5 cups of chicken broth for the first batch. We did a batch of chicken & a batch of pork, so for the chicken batch I only got around 1.5 cups of green chili juice and 2.5 cups of chicken broth.
Stir the liquid in until a fairly thick dough forms. You just want it all moistened.
Hold a corn husk in your hand & press the masa mixture onto it. You want it to be about 1/4-inch thick, leaving 1.5-inches at the bottom and around 3/4-inch at both sides. Place a bit of cheese in the center of the masa mixture, and spoon the chili meat down the center.
Roll the tamale up, and fold the bottom up to seal it.
Cover the bottom of your steamer basket with corn husks. Place the wrapped tamales in the steamer basket, open end facing up. When the basket is full, place it over a pot of boiling water, making sure the water doesn’t get into the basket.
Cover and steam the tamales for 90-120 minutes, checking to make sure the water doesn’t boil dry.
Tamales are done when the masa is yellow color.
Serve with sour cream or plain yogurt and some salsa verde or leftover chili verde on top, and sprinkle with queso fresca.
Once cooked, they can be frozen. To reheat, just put them on a microwave=safe plate, cover & microwave for about 1 minute.
I promise, it looks more difficult than it is. Doing it this way it takes 2 days, but the flavors in the chili are so worth it. So very worth it.
It is easier if you have 2 people doing this – that is a LOT of chopping.
If you leave the cheese out, this is both gluten & dairy free.