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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tamales

Back in December, my friend Ruben invited me over to teach his friend Janette and myself on how to make tamales.  After the amazing (and VERY time consuming) experience was over, I wanted to share it with you all.  I got to thinking though, it's not really my place to share a long time family recipe that is not from my family - even if Rube told me it was ok - PLUS, I could give you a recipe, but really, I believe that you cannot really get the full "how to" unless you have someone SHOW you how to do it.  So, this post is just sort of a recap of what we did.  There are no measurements and exact quantities... I'm just going to walk you through the steps.

First, let me just say... I've never been a tamale fan.  The masa has that odd texture to me that just does not sit well.  Rube's tamales, have me changing my tune though - at least about his.  As every family recipe is different, I'm sure.  Rube's masa to filling ratio is so much more enjoyable than any other tamale I have tried :)

Ok... so, I arrived at Rube's at about 10am - when I walked in, the aroma that filter out the kitchen was already to die for!  Rube had started the process the night before by taking 6lbs of beef roast and 6lbs of pork roast, cutting them into 2-inch chunks (against the grain) and dropping all the meat into a large stock pot.  He covered it all with water, added some peppercorns, salt, whole garlic cloves and bay leaves, then allowed it to simmer all night.  When I got there, the meat was out of the pot and cooling.  Our first project was to shred the meat. (easiest part of the day, let me tell you!!)  Rube also saved some of the fat from the meat AND all the water he simmered it in....he uses both later to make the red chili filling.

The next step was to make the red chili sauce: He starts with 2 bags of dried chili - one hot, one mild - we cut them open and scraped out the seeds.  We tossed those into a pot of water with garlic cloves and brought it to a boil.  As soon as it boiled we removed from the heat.



Those chilies then went into a blender with the water from the simmered meat - we kept adding chili and water until we got the right consistency and we used all the chilis.  The red chili sauce was born!

Now it was time for the red chili filling for the tamales.  In a large pot, Rube added some fat from the meat and flour.  He added the meat, and some broth, and then the rest of the meat.  We ladled in the red chili sauce and stirred everything around... added more chili sauce...added more broth... Stir.... I think you get the picture here.  We did that until we got the perfect consistency.  Done!

While that sat on the stove melding it's flavors, we sat down and ate a little of it AND we made some beans...but that's for another day and another post. :)

Ok... now it's time to make the actual tamales... believe it or not, half the day has gone by at this point.  So, masa.. we used prepared masa - a 10lbs bag to be exact.  Rube let Janette and I get our hands really dirty at this point.  We hand mixed the masa with shortening and salt.  We kept mixing until we got the right density....we added a little of the red chili sauce to give it a bit of color.


Cornhusks were soaked in water to soften - now the fun part.  Hold out the cornhusk in your hand, spread the masa from about edge to edge, but only on one half of it.  Top with some filling and a black olive, roll and fold over.  Simple (actually, it wasn't simple at all.. I did at least 2 dozen myself and it was harder than it looks and sounds, trust me).


 

Once they were all done - they get steamed for an hour and viola!  Tamales are made.


I left Rube's at about 6pm - so never think this is a simple project.  There is a reason why most families only make tamales once or twice a year... and that it's a family and friends affair!

Although it was a lot of work, I still had a fantastic time cooking with Ruben and Janette.. and of course I feel very fortunate to have been able to learn how to make them from start to finish.  It definitely gives me a new appreciation for tamales and those that make them!  Thanks for the great cooking experience, Ruben!

A couple of weeks after we had our tamale making "party" - Janette sends Ruben this photo of a little instruction guide she saw at a local restaurant - we all WISHED it had been that easy! lol

 
One Year Ago:  Deep Dish Dark Chocolate Chip Brownies
Two Years Ago:  Szechuan Chicken

17 comments:

Yenta Mary said...

Oh, I love tamales! And I've always wished someone would invite me over for a tamale-making party. LOTS of work, but so worthwhile! Truly a labor of love ... :)

StephenC said...

I'm too old to make tamales - I don't have that much time left. But thank you for that entertaining essay. There used to be a middle-aged (presumably Mexican) lady outside our Denver Safeway who called out "TAMALES" and sold them for $8 per dozen. Part of me wishes I had tried them.

Mary said...

bwahahaha, if ONLY it were as simple as that restaurant would like you to believe. My theory there is that the restaurant wants you to attempt it, throw up your hands in frustration and run quickly back to them for take out.

Growing up in NM, I've watched friends and their families spend an entire day or two making their holiday tamales. I am looking forward to learning from some local friends this year as well.

Like you, I have never been a fan of tamales. The few that I have loved have had a VERY high ratio of meat/filling to the masa. Too much masa = gross.

Mom said...

Thanks for the commentary & pictures! I really enjoyed them. And I thought homemade tacos took a lot of work!! Kudos to Ruben!!

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

I love tamales!!! I'm excited for you that you got to make them :) My friend Phyllis and I have made them before. They were the best tamales I've ever had. I'll make them for you someday :) We have TONS of tamale vendors here, they sell them out of their cars (like Stephen said) and they're expensive. After making my own I see why they charge so much!! Labor of love is right. They look delicious Jenn!

Cranberry Morning said...

I love tamales, but haven't had one in years - in Mexico, actually. And after reading this post, I have a new appreciation for anyone who's brave enough to make a tamale!

I had to laugh at Stephen's comment. Does look like you had a great time!

Mary said...

This was a fabulous post. I've never made them and I suspect I never will. They really are time consuming and my family doesn't enjoy them enough to make the effort worthwhile. That being said, I'm in awe of what the three of you accomplished. I love the new look of your blog. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Pam said...

What a great friend to show you how to make authentic tamales! I love them but have never attempted to make them. They look AMAZING!

© said...

Awesome post! :)

Chris said...

I have made them twice now and we loved them both times. It was scary the first time since we didn't have a Ruben to show us how to make them but fortunately the Internet got us "in the ball park".

Miss Meat and Potatoes said...

How freaking cool you got this opportunity!!! My mom made tamales once in the 80's and she's never really recovered from it. But she didn't have a Ruben at her side. That's awesome.

Pam said...

That's quite a process and so nice of your Ruben. It looks like you had a fun time. I'm not a tamale fan either because of the masa texture and the smell also but I bet Ruben's were good!

Candace said...

What a wonderful post! I absolutely adore tamales. It was so nice of Ruben to have you over and share that experience with you. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Becki's Whole Life said...

I have never ad a tamale, but the end results look yummy and i bet it was just fun to make them...kind of a social cooking project - fun! I was downtown at a local coffee shop last week and I heard that they had tamales for sale. Completely random place to find them but I figured they were probably good...this makes me want to try them!

Lea Ann (Highlands Ranch Foodie) said...

I'd love to make tamales.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Wish I could go to Ruben's house and make tamales with him! Tamale making is definitely a group activity. Making them alone would be a long, lonely day! Looks like he uses just the right amount of masa. You've made me hungry!

Unknown said...

I used to make 'cocktail' tamales for a bar I worked at in Talkeetna Alaska. They doubled the amount of drinks we sold. My recipe is very similiar to yours except I season the masa mix with oregano, cumin, and thyme, and the filling is not just meat I add tomatoes and generous use of all the mexican herbs to it and cook it down a lot for hours, sometimes I melt some cheese into the meat mix too. I had never seen them done openended like those you picture, that is certainly easier than trying to close both ends of the corn husks. Great idea, thanks for passing it on.