Friday, March 6, 2009


A great deal of South and Central American food is a variation on a very good theme--corn mush wrapped around fillings of some sort, then baked/fried/steamed, etc... It's only natural, then, that after my co-worker and I discussed arepa flour for a while, I was seized with the overwhelming urge to make some tamales. Tamales are one of those deceptively complicated looking foods. The cute packaging creates the illusion that they must be incredibly difficult to make at home, and even though I know that's not true and have even made them before, once long ago at a neighbor's party, the illusion is persuasive enough that my imagination has shied away from making them at home.

This had to end. Tamales are cheap, easy, delicious, filling, and great to take for lunch. They freeze well, and take to any filling you might have lying around. No more excuses. Still, the process took a few days. First, I roasted this chicken.
As Matt and I heroically denied ourselves more than a few nibbles of skin and one unlucky leg, I mensched up and rendered the fat.Heh. Gribenes.
The next day, after the chicken was all picked, I mixed half of it with some tomatillo salsa that had been lying around and the other half with some Oaxacan mole negro that had been lying around even longer. A lot longer. My father brought the jar home in 2005? 2006? More on this later.
For the dough, I used a recipe from Epicurious.

The proportions are very flexible. If you'd like less fat, use more water. If you want more flavor, add some flavorings. All that matters is that you wind up with a thick paste.

Tamale Dough
adapted from

  • 1 1/3 cups lard or solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (omit if masa mixture contains salt)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (omit if masa mixture contains baking powder)
  • 4 cups freshly ground masa dough for tamales (34 to 36 ounces), or make masa dough with 31/2 cups masa harina (corn tortilla mix; about 17 ounces) mixed with 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth
Mix all the dough ingredients together until you have a thick paste.

Next, you take the paste and spread it onto some corn husks. These can be purchased from the bodega or grocery store, and were absurdly expensive ($3.49 for a bag), so dry your own when you eat corn. I will be trying to. As you can see in the badly lit photo below, you want your paste to cover a rectangular area on the top left or right hand corner of the husk. You don't want it to go all the way across or all the way down.Scoop some filling into the middle of your paste area, roll over and fold the bottom up, and tie off, leaving the top open. I pinched the tops together. Then all you have to do is put the tamales over some boiling water in a big steamer pot (mine wasn't quite big enough), cover, and steam for about 40 minutes. Take the cover off, let stand a bit, and then do what you will with them.
They were delicious, and I've eaten them for lunch every day this week but one. With a splash of water, they microwave very well.
As for the mole, it was delicious, but after we'd both had a bit, I got really anxious about how old it was and panicked about botulism for a few days. As neither of us is dead yet, I may decide to feel less anxious soon and eat the chicken (which I froze pending death verdict). In the meantime, I have a new school lunch and a new party trick. Not bad.

1 comment:

Sophie said...

those look yummy! did you know that they are also wrapped in steamed banana leaves? my host mom says only mole tamales go in banana leaves, and that they can go in corn husk also. and did you know they eat sweet ones here too, with honey and raisins? tamales are all the rage in oaxaca.