Wish Upon A Dish: Tamales - Daring Cooks Challenge January 2012

January 15, 2012

Tamales - Daring Cooks Challenge January 2012

Ever since Rick Bayless' PBS show aired (at least 7 years ago) I have had this love/hate relationship with Mexican food. Hate because I could never and still can't find an authentic Mexican restaurant in any of the surrounding cities where I lived. We wanted Mexican, we ran to NYC and Panchitos, but that was a whole day deal.
Love... because I do, you know, absolutely adore it....grrrrr

Took me many years to delve into the process of making homemade red chili sauce. Now I wouldn't think of buying it in a store. I have made many versions of enchiladas (true enchiladas) and even dabbled in a huevos rancheros or two. When we travel to the Southwest or Mexico, I order the carnitas every time, but make them at home? Never. Can you see me (or even you) frying pork for three hours in a vat of boiling oil??
I don't think so.

Tamales always looked doable. I have a pasta pot (perfect for steaming),
I researched and watched shows on making the masa, the fillings and watched Rick and Alton wrap them every which way. It really was only a matter of planning a day (they are labor intensive) to make them and convincing The Nudge he would like them, really.

I mean, come on, its slow braised chili flavored meat wrapped in cornmeal? What's not to love. Plus, it's a diabetic friendly food.

Imagine my surprise when this month's Daring Kitchen's challenge was tamales!!
Yup, I have no excuse. I have a Shop-Rite a few miles up the highway that is situated in a heavily habitated Spanish community and stocks a wide array of Spanish/Mexican foods.

Between their rich history, handcrafted flavor, and wide variety of fillings, tamales are one of the greatest special occasion foods in the world. Even the process of making tamales can be a party, called a tamalada.

So..let's start our own tamalada and meet our hostess.

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!

Maranda gave us a few recipes to make if we wanted too, and while they looked very good and tasty, I really wanted to make a pork tamale. I wanted a slow braised chili infused pork filling like I been dreaming about for years. I chose banana leaves for my wrapping material but bought corn husks in case (The Nudge always says it's wearing suspenders AND a belt).

Finding incentive was easy, I have a site bookmarked. Frontera Kitchens is my "Go To" for all my forays into the world of authentic Mexican.

Recipe excerpted from 'Mexico One Plate at a Time' by Rick Bayless
Makes about 18 tamales

For the filling:
* 16 large (about 4 ounces) dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and each torn into several pieces
* 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
* 1/4 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
* 1 1/2 pounds lean boneless pork (preferably from the shoulder), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* Salt

For the batter:
* 10 ounces (1 1/3 cups) rich-tasting pork lard (or vegetable shortening if you wish), slightly softened but not at all runny
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 2 pounds (4 cups) fresh coarse-ground corn masa for tamales OR 3 1/2 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
* 1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
* 2 1-pound packages banana leaves, defrosted if frozen

I find that using my kitchen shears to cut open the chiles makes it extremely easy to remove all the seeds (which can be bitter) and cut them into pieces.

1. Preparing the filling. In a large blender or food processor (or working in batches), combine the chiles, garlic, pepper and cumin. Add 3 cups water, cover and blend to a smooth puree. Strain the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a medium-size (3-quart) saucepan.
Add the meat, 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the pork is fork-tender and the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a thick sauce, about 1 hour. Use a fork to break the pork into small pieces. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary. Let cool to room temperature.

My pork took 75 minutes to tenderize. I removed the meat and seasoned the sauce with salt, pepper and a touch of agave nectar, just to soften the bitterness of the chiles.
So far so good and it was easy.

2. Preparing the batter. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard or shortening with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light).
Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think necessary.
For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding enough additional broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

3. Preparing the banana leaves. Unfold the banana leaves and cut off the long, hard sides of the leaves (where they were attached to the central vein). Look for holes or rips, then cut leaves into unbroken 12-inch segments (you will need 20). Either steam the segments for 20 minutes to make them soft and pliable, or one at a time pass them briefly over an open flame or hot electric burner until soft and glossy.

4. Setting up the steamer. Steaming 20 leaf-wrapped tamales can be done in batches in a collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan (if you stack the tamales more than two high they will steam unevenly). To steam the whole recipe at once, you’ll need something like the kettle-size tamal steamers used in Mexico or Asian stack steamers, or you can improvise by setting a wire rack on 4 coffee or custard cups in a large kettle.
It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover scraps of banana leaves to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between leaves so condensing steam can drain off.

5. Forming the tamales. Cut twenty 12-inch pieces or string or thin strips of banana leaf. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out a square of banana leaf, shiny-side up, and spread 1/3 cup of the batter into an 8x4-inch rectangle over it (as shown in the illustration).

Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling over the left side of the rectangle of batter,

then fold in the right third of the leaf so that the batter encloses the filling. Fold in the uncovered third of the leaf,

then fold in the top and bottom. Loosely tie the tamales with string, ready for the steamer.

Continue until all your tamales are wrapped and tied.

I steamed 2" strips of leaf to use as patches and I had to mend 3 tamales. I steamed my pieces of banana leaf for 35 minutes and some still cracked. Having those patches made the whole process much smoother.

6. Steaming and serving the tamales: When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of banana leaf scraps or leftovers. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.
Tamales are done when the leaf peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.

Working Ahead: Both filling and batter can be made several days ahead, as can the finished tamales; refrigerate, well covered. Re-steam (or even microwave) tamales before serving. For even more flexibility, batter, filling or finished tamales can be frozen. Defrost finished tamales in the refrigerator overnight before re-steaming.

Review: While I know the banana leaf method does impart a unique flavor to the tamales, I still have half my batter and mixture (frozen) and will make these again using the corn husks. I also think I will make a vegetarian filling. I will not waste the rest of my leaves, I plan on making Kahlua Pork in the near future and I will wrap the pork butt in the leaves and slow roast it. Should be yummy.

1 comment :

Frank said...

These really look delicious, Susan! And I couldn't agree more—in most of the US, if you want authentic Mexican food, you just have to make it at home. That's too bad, since the real stuff is so much better than "Tex-Mex".