Making Tamales at home
Thought I'd get ambitious this holiday season and talked my friends into joining me for a tamale making session at home. But I've never made them .....
Anyone have a favorite recipe or suggestions or ideas that might help us out? Thanks in advance!
I make basically one big one in a glass baking pan. I put the cornmeal or masa harina mixture in the bottom and push it up the sides a little, the filling in the middle (about 3 cups of shredded beef & /or pork and spices)the cover with the rest of the cornmeal. I press the meat down into it, so from the outside of the glass pan you don't see any meat. Then I bake it. Sometimes I cover it first, sometimes not. I'm still experimenting, but it seems to go pretty fast whenever I take it somewhere (with warm enchilada sauce on the side)
If you use masa harina, it needs a little lard in it and it takes longer to bake. If I use straight cornmeal I add a can of corn I've run through the food processor a little, and make mush with chicken stock and don't add any fat. Like I say, this is something I play around with. I just took all the parts of my favorite tamale experiences and try to put them together.
Using a kitchenaid type mixer to make the masa will make your life much eaiser. The masa has to have enough air beaten into it that a small piece floats in water. Achieving this by hand is really tough. If on the other hand you would like to workout your hands and forearm like never before, try it manually. Alternatively, though I've never tried it, many mex. markets sell pre-made masa for tamales and tortillas.
As suggested, make the masa in a mixer. The recipe on the bag of Quaker masa harina works fine. Just beat the hell out of it.
I always have trouble with the wrapping-in-corn-husk part of it. However, plastic wrap works just fine. Not as authentic or esthetic, but it works. Use a brand that is okay for microwaves, so you don't melt it into the dough.
re: Suzanne Fass
Buy the largest husks you can find. Try soaking the corn husk overnite, and start with hot water to get them nice and pliable. The husks can also be pieced together if their not large enough. Just overlap the edges slightly and lay the masa over the seam. They're actually not too difficult to use if you can get over any perfectioness tendencies you may have. A little tequilla may help. Don't worry if the masa and filling when it's layed out on the husk doesn't look perfect. They'll come out just fine. I've also found it useful to buy homemade tamales and deconstruct them to see the wrapping technique. Discovering that you don't need to tie them (folding the ends over works well) saved me alot of time and hassle.
If you can, get freshly made masa from a tortilleria. Making homemade tamales using masa harina is sort of like using Minute Rice to make risotto--not anywhere near the real deal. Because I don't have a source of fresh masa nearby, I make my own from dried corn, cooking it briefly with cal (lime) and then rubbing off the hulls and grinding the nixtamal to make the masa. Also, the lard makes a difference (see Rick Bayless' rant about lard in _Mexico-One Plate at a Time_). Using homemade lard, which has a wonderful roast pork flavor, is totally different than using commercial bricks of lard loaded with chemical preservatives. Have a good steamer set-up. It's lots of work, so you don't want to make just a few. You need a big steamer pot. Invite some friends or family over to help you make them--set up an assembly line to make the work go faster.
A few tips I've learned from bitter experience -- don't skimp on the lard, but do also use a good-flavored broth for the masa batter. Use baking powder so the tamales will be nice and tender. If you put cheese inside and steam them too long, the cheese caramelizes and turns into shoeleather.
Homemade tamales are incredibly delicious!