Masa Harina for tamales
Going to give tamales a try and the recipe (Alton Brown) calls for masa harina. The only thing I could find at the grocery store is Harina de maiz (corn masa mix). Is this the same thing?
Also, I've made tamales 2 other times -- once they came out great; the other, not so good. I used shortening both times. The recipe calls for lard (of course), but I don't think my store carries it. I've seen threads where people have said they used butter or oil instead. If I can't get my hands on some lard in the next day or so, what's the best alternative?
I use Maseca for tamales, a recipe sort of mixing two of AB's recipes in order to account for differences in quantities and personal taste (they're for turkey tamales and the usual pork ones you are probably looking at), and have had nothing but success. Shortening is my second choice to lard, but lard really sends tamales over the top. No Crisco lard around your grocery? In the stores around here, it is kept next to the shortening on the shelf.
Good luck either way! I need to make up a new batch one of these Sundays.
The only corn flour I can get at the drop of a hat is this type of the Maseca brand, which according to the link is for tortillas. http://www.mexgrocer.com/2440.html
I've made hundreds of tamales with it and they're always great, although I am certainly not a tamale expert.
That site lists another Maseca brand that says it's for tamales, but I've never been able to find that locally.
Next time I get to flexing my tamale muscle, I am going to try to track down an alternative and see if it makes any difference.
I LOVE the Rick Bayless tamale recipes--my favorite is the green chile/cheese version. I make them by the 4x batch.
As far as the fat to use for tamales, I've used home-rendered organic lard, bacon grease and butter. Usually mostly lard with a couple of tablespoons of bacon drippings or butter to bump up the flavor. Duck or chicken fat would be another option. If necessary, buy some pork fat and render it yourself. Easy and totally worth it.
I wouldn't go near the nasty lard sold in cubes at the regular grocery. That stuff is hydrogenated/stale/creepy.