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
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