In some Hispanic families tamale-making is a Christmas tradition. My mother-in-law has been talking about us making tamales at Christmas time since even before Kevin and I were married (15 years in 2012). This year, we decided to do so. This was my first experience making tamales, and there are some things that I would probably do a little different next time, but we did them the way it was traditional for my mother-in-law to make them, and I learned a lot.
****2014 UPDATE: Please read this through all the way, but then go visit THIS post, as I have updated my tamale-making process to one that takes much less time and effort! ****
First, let me say that next time, this will be a two-day affair. Even with Lucia preparing the meat the night before, the process still took 8 hours. So, if you do a little prep work the day before to make the meat and the chile ancho sauce, then I think things would be a little more managable.
Also, I need to add that there are as many ways to make tamales as there are Abuelitas who make them. This is just the way we did it.
As I said, the meat was prepared ahead of time. We used 6 lbs. of pork (Boston butt steak) cooked with a spice packet, but if you don’t use a spice packet, you can just cook it with onion, garlic and a bay leaf. Save the broth, as you will use it in preparing the masa.
The first thing we worked on was seeding the chile anchos. We used 1 lb. 5 oz. of chiles.
Explanation: 1. We pulled apart the chile anchos and 2. Removed the seeds. 3. Here is the pile of seeded chiles with “stuff” that we discarded. 4. We then poured boiling water over the chiles to cover them and 5. let them soak a good 30 minutes or more. 6. When they have changed color and are soft & playable, puree them in a blender or food processor, mixing with them some of the water from anchos. I think with the whole batch we used between 5-6 cups of the ancho water. 7. We then pushed the puree through a strainer to get rid of the bitter casing from the peppers and any leftover seeds. 8. We got a nice sauce, which we heated and mixed in 1 Tbs. garlic powder, 2 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. melted lard mixed with 2 tsp. flour, 1.5 tsp. chili powder, and 1 tsp. onion powder. It was a little bitter to the taste, so we ended up also adding 4 tsp. sugar total. Once we were happy with the sauce, we mixed in the meat.
Next, we focused on the masa (dough).
This is what we used… 1. 10 lbs. of Masa with water and lime already mixed in, 2. 2.5 lbs. LARD. The bad kind. (We actually didn’t use quite the amount, but that is the amount the recipe calls for). 3. Because 10 lbs. of masa is so large, we split it into two bowls to work in the rest of the ingredients, which are 3 Tbs. salt, 2 tsp. baking powder. Work these in with your hands before adding the manteca (lard) and the broth. 3. Melt the manteca and pour it into your masa mixture as well as 2 cups of broth from your meat (we ended up using 3 cups). If you don’t have any broth from your meat you can also use chicken broth or water. 5. After the masa is mixed well by hand and your hands are nice and messy, go ahead and put it in the blender in batches to whip it up a little. 6. You want it the consistency of butter as you spread it.
*Whew* By this time several hours have passed and it’s FINALLY time to make the tamales!
1. We cleaned any remaining silk off the hojas (corn husks) and soaked them in boiling water. 2. It is best to pat the water off the hojas so that they are not still wet when you spread on the masa. 3. Starting about 1/3 of the way down the husk, spread the masa on evenly – not too thick, not too thin – going all the way to the end. 4. Put a strip of your meat mixture down the center third of the masa. 5. Fold both sides over, one then the other, and then 6. Fold the top of the husk down. Place the tamale face down in a pan.
We had lots of help for this part, although for 2 of the 3 it was a bit short-lived…
First, 1. Place some unused hojas around the bottom of the pan so the tamales won’t actually touch the bottom and stick to it. (I got 2. and 3. backwards in the above picture, but you can see that you just start placing the tamales around the outside of the pot leaving a little space around the hole for the steam to rise. Once you’re up a little ways, you can just pile them on. 4. Cover the top of the tamales with a wet dish towel or some more wet hojas and put the lid on. 5. Bring the water to a boil over low-to-medium heat.
You can start checking the tamales after an hour and 15 minutes or so. You know if the ones on top are done, they are done the whole way through. listen every now and then to make sure the water is still boiling inside. If you run out of water, the tortillas will burn. Our large pot took 2 hours to cook. We also had a smaller pot going, and it took an hour and 15 minutes. You know they are done when you lift the hojas off, and the masa separates from the husk like so:
And here is a pan of our finished product!
We didn’t actually count, but I believe we had around 6 dozen tamales. We ate some tonight, I froze some, and we will eat some more for Christmas dinner along with other kinds of amazing Mexican food from my mother-in-law’s kitchen!
*** 2014 Update: I have a “new and improved” tamale making process that is much simpler. Check it out HERE.***