Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!
I’ve never made tamales before, although I did have some amazing tamales last year. One of the mom’s on my sons’ football team made the team tamales to eat after the game. She made enough for the parents too and they were the best tamales I’d ever eaten, perfectly spiced with a good balance of masa and delicious pork filling.
Hoping to recreate her magic, in addition to the challenge recipe, I turned to friends who have been making tamales for years for advice. Bonnie advised me to be sure the masa is spreadable and to spread it thinly. The video they posted with the challenge helps show how to spread the masa.
I also searched Everyday Southwest for tips on making tamales. Donna did a post on substituting a Butter Canola Whipped Spread for lard in tamales. Since I was a little concerned about using lard this sounded like a perfect alternative.
A market not too far from my home, ¡Viva! Market has a large selection of products from Mexico, Central and South America, so I shopped there for my ingredients. I was going to buy a pork shoulder and cook the pork at home, but they had some mouth watering pork carnitas already roasted and ready to eat. I bought 2 lbs., which when shredded was the 4 cups I needed for the recipe. I also used the recipe on the masa harina mix I bought.
I was really pleased with how well my tamales turned out on my first try. I was generous with the filling so the ratio of filling to masa was about right and the butter/canola mix gave the masa a delicious, slightly buttery flavor. My filling was delicious as well, but really spicy. I think I should have removed the seeds and ribs from the serrano chilies. I added that in the recipe below.
If you haven’t tried making tamales at home, give it a try. They are a little time intensive but not difficult, and so much better than store bought tamales.
- 1–8 ounce (225 gram) package dried corn husks (If you cannot find corn husks, you can use parchment paper)
- 1 pound tomatillos (can sub mild green chilies—canned or fresh)
- 4–3 inch serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped (can sub jalapeno)
- 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 4 cups cooked and shredded pork carnitas
- 2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (omit if already in masa mixture)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder (omit if already in masa mixture)
- 3 cups masa harina (corn tamale mix)
- 3 cups sodium chicken broth
- Place the dried corn husks in a large pot and cover with water.
- Place a heavy plate or a smaller pot full of water on top of husks to keep them in the water. Let soak for 3 hours or up to 1 day, flipping occasionally until husks are softened.
- Place an oven rack on the top setting. Turn the oven on broil. Peel and rinse the tomatillos.
- Line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Place tomatillos on baking sheet and place under broiler.
- Broil (grill) until black spots form on tomatillos, then flip and broil (grill) other side. This takes about 5-10 minutes per side depending on the strength of the broiler.
- Place roasted tomatillos and juices from the pan into a food processor and allow to cool about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chopped Serrano chiles and process until smooth.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.
- Add the tomatillo puree and boil, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes (it should turn thick like a paste).
- Add in the chicken broth, stir to mix well. Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is reduced to about a cup.
- Stir in the shredded pork and cilantro. Salt to taste.
- Prepare the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and canola oil until it’s white and creamy.
- In a separate bowl mix the masa harina, baking powder and salt. Add masa mixture to whipped butter and canola one cup at a time.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low, gradually add the chicken broth. Add more or less as necessary until it has the consistence of soft cream cheese.
- Take 3 large corn husks and tear them into 1/4 inch strips. (Put these back in the water until ready to use because they dry out and start breaking when you try to work with them.
- Take a large pot with a steamer attachment. Pour about 2 inches of water into the bottom of the pot, or enough to touch the bottom of the steamer. Line the bottom of the steamer with corn husks.
- Unfold 2 corn husks onto a work surface. Take 1/4 cup of dough and, starting near the top of the husk, press it out into a 4 inch square, leaving 2-3 inches at the bottom of the husk. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in a line down the center of the dough square.
- Fold the dough into the corn husk. And wrap the husk around the dough. Fold up the skinny bottom part of the husk. And secure it with one of the corn husk ties.
- Stand them up in the steamer. If there aren’t enough tamales to tightly pack the steamer, place crumpled aluminum foil in the excess space.
- Steam the tamales for about 40 minutes or until the dough deepens in color and easily pulls away from the husk.