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Tamale Time

June 9, 2011
Finished tamales

I love the idea of getting a group of friends together to make food! My favorite kind of party!

Last month, a bunch of us buddies got together to have an ostrich egg breakfast brunch– this time, it was time to make tamales.  I have actually always wanted to make homemade tamales. I am not from a Spanish decent so I am not one of the lucky few who enjoy quality family time making tamales for Christmas. (We make cookies in my family!) So I recently watched an episode of “Good Eats” with Alton Brown where he taught about the basics of making tamales. Right then I knew the time had come to make them.

He suggested getting friends together to help- because it can be a lot of work (and it is!). So that’s exactly what I did. There were 5 of us Some didn’t show up… you know who you are! (Oh well- more tamales for me!) and it took us about 4 hours to make 88 tamales. Holy cow! That’s a lot! (This includes the preping, assembling and cooking) Along with some beer and the Gypsy Kings playing in the background, this was a really good time. Each of us took home a bag of tamales AND I got to take some leftovers to work for my coworkers.

Tamale and beer- perfect combination

So with out further ado, here is a recap of my tamale making party along with the recipes and a bunch of pictures, so you can make them on your own too!

The tamale station

We made: lamb, chipotle chicken, buffalo, cheese, cheese and jalapeno, cheese and salsa, and turkey tamales! We had both yellow and white masa as well (the yellow was sweet and the white was plain).

Masa is the dough that holds the tamale filling and makes a tamale a tamale. It is made with masa harina corn flour and lard. I really wanted to make the masa completely from scratch, but apparently the store only carried “Masa Preparada” (prepared Masa). I felt kind of silly walking around the Mexican market looking for something I had no idea where to find, and then asking the employees to direct me when we could’t really understand each other. If only I had a Spanish speaking Mexican with me! 😉 The prepared masa worked out just fine and it saved us some work of making the dough.

Soaking the Husks (needs something heavy to hold them down)

To make tamales you will need:

  • Corn husks
  • Masa
  • A large pot
  • A steamer basket to put in your large pot
  • Your favorite filling (see recipes for the filling ideas below)

To Do:

  • You need to soak the corn husks in hot water for about 2 hours ahead of time. I boiled water, placed it in a large bowl with the husks, and then used heavy glass mugs to hold the husks underwater.
  • Prepare your fillings ahead of time to have them ready when the husks are ready.
  • Assemble the tamales:
  • Grab a corn husk from the water and pat it dry with a towel.
  • Grab a spoonful of masa (about 2-3 tablespoons) and spread it out in the middle of the husk.
  • Place your filling in the center of the masa.
  • Roll it up by squishing the left and right sides of the dough together and wrapping the husk around everything, then fold the bottom up, and tie it in place- using a thin strip of another corn husk (see the images below on how to assemble) It is fine to leave the top open.

Mini chipotle chicken tamale

Put a metal steamer basket at the bottom of a large pot and fill the pot with water only up to the bottom of the basket. When you have a large amount of tamales made, carefully place them face-up in the large pot.
Cover and steam the tamales for about 1 1/2 hours- or until the masa easily pulls off of the husk.

Be sure to refill the water about every 25 minutes- you don’t want it to steam completely out. (I used a large cup or a watering can to add more water each time)

The steaming pot

And now for the filling:

Chipotle Chicken

Chicken: Boil some chicken breast ahead of time. Once it cools, shred it in to smaller pieces. Season it how ever you like. I mixed my chicken with chopped up canned chipotle peppers. It was REALLY good- one of our favorite tamales.

Lamb with Rosemary

Lamb: I never really eat lamb (I’ve only had it at a Las Vegas buffet once I think..) and it’s actually pretty tasty. It has a distinct flavor to it and it tastes really good in a tamale. My friend Eric brought it over after he roasted it with rosemary. It’s pretty good- you should try it.

Buffalo: I bought 2 steaks of buffalo the night before because it was for sale for a limited time at the local market. I never had it before and I hear its SUPER good for you. It’s leaner than both beef and chicken!  I was disappointed because it is very tough. I would not recommend eating a regular cut as a steak (filet minion might be better- I didn’t buy that though) For the tamales, I boiled the buffalo meat and cut it into super small pieces. That turned out really good in the tamale. As long as the pieces are small, you don’t really have to worry about the toughness of the meat.

Turkey leg filling- for “Good Eats”

Turkey: This recipe I got from Alton Brown on “Good Eats”. You can find that recipe here. He also describes how to make the masa from scratch if you were interested… The turkey tamales tasted really good- very flavorful and juicy!

Cheese: We got creative with the cheese ones. My favorite was mozzarella cheese with green tomatillo salsa and cilantro. We also made jalepeno cheese, plain cheese, chipotle cheese, mango salsa and cheese… the list goes on.

Labeled with food coloring

We made so many different kinds that I had to seperate them some how! So I marked them with food coloring (it’s non-toxic!) and that seemed to work out pretty well, as you can see above. After they were done, we all ate so many tamales it’s not even funny. That’s why I put this in the category “Splurging is okay sometimes!”

Dinner is served

Well I hope you enjoyed this extra-long post, and maybe this has encouraged you to make some homemade tamales yourself!

This whole cooking-party thing needs to be a regular event!- I love it! It’s so much fun to hang out, cook and eat! Have you had any exciting cooking parties? Do you have any cool ideas for my next one?

Thanks for reading!

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  • Reply Ann Gallaugher June 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Tessa,
    Wow – thanks for these great tips for making tamales! And . . . thanks for sharing delicious samples with us!

  • Reply spicegirlfla June 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I am so impressed! I would have definitely showed up for this tamale making party! Guess I’ll have to invite some friends and try it out…looks like you had a great time and they turned out amazing!

  • Reply Liz July 24, 2011 at 12:31 am

    So it had to be a spanish speaking mexican? What about a spanish speaking guatemalan?

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