Más masa

We’ve made and devoured two batches of homemade tamales in the last month. If you have never made tamales, I assume it’s because (a) there is a tamale truck parked outside your house, or (b) you’ve heard that they’re hard to make.

(Before we go any further, yes, I realize the Spanish singular is el tamal, but “tamale” seems like a perfectly good English word to me.)

Tamales are not hard to make. They are extremely simple to make. Maybe I’m breaking some sort of tamalista code by revealing this. Furthermore, tamales are actually better if you cook them ahead and reheat them. Further-furthermore, tamale-making produces delicious byproducts. From the last batch, we have leftover pork filling that will go into tacos or burritos, plus a bunch of rich, garlicky pork stock that will form the basis of tortilla soup.

Finally, you can make a lot of tamales for not a lot of money.

We’ve tried two different pork tamale recipes, one from Rick Bayless and one from Zarela Martinez. Both were good; the Martinez recipe was slightly better, if only because the pork had a little vinegar in it. It’s hard to go wrong. Next time we’re going to try doing a cheese and green chile filling and a chicken with tomatillo filling. My only tips are: use good lard; spread the masa thinly (I used an offset spatula); and don’t skimp on the soaking time for the husks.

Iris has gone crazy for tamales. She has had tamales for four meals in the last three days. Okay, actually, so have I.

If you have a couple days off between now and 2009, and you’re not as snowed in as I am, please do me a favor and make some tamales. I want to hear about it.

14 thoughts on “Más masa

  1. Paula

    I don’t know… I made tamales for the first time this year, and 1. it cost about 4 times as much as I thought it would, and 2. took 32448432049 times longer than I thought it would. That said, it will probably prove to be worth it. If my roommate ever forgives me for throwing away all her ice cream for freezer room.

  2. Dawn

    Ooh, we’re planning to make tamales for the first time (for me) on Sunday. I’ve gotten some recipes from my latina co-worker that I’m looking forward to trying. She just made some for Christmas and says, “I made sweet ones too. Sweet ones are the BEST. They are sugarry and cinnamomy. Yum.” Have you ever had a sweet tamale? I haven’t, but they sound good.

  3. Neil

    I can testify that Mathew has the tamale makin’ skillz. Had them for dinner last night at his Mom’s and they were very tasty. I’d be interested in hearing more about the sweet version. Is this traditional?

  4. Corina

    Sweet tamales are definitely traditional…think dessert! Some sweet tamales are made with a sweet masa and raisins; others have pineapple; and I’ve also had some that have a rice pudding filling. Very yummy.

    I always make pork but have also made chicken and beef ones. The past couple of years I have also made some with cheese and rajas (green chile strips) because my daughter is vegetarian. Last year I made some with seitan. Very tasty as it’s all in the seasoning, not really the meat!

  5. Wendy

    Rick Bayless was on our plane from Oaxaca to Mexico yesterday!

    Our cooking class featured tamales, and they were very delicious. We brought home some ingredients to make some soon.

  6. Melissa

    We almost always have tamales for Christmas Eve–they are dirt cheap around here (Dallas) and there are fierce debates on where to get them. I’ve never attempted to make them, since I can literally walk down the street and get some. When I lived in NC, a friend who was dating a Hispanic guy had a tamale party. She had to explain to all of her friends that you do not eat the husk. Sigh.

  7. cindy

    my grama made the best tamales in the world, i miss them a lot! i wish i had the stuff to make tamales while we were snowed in too. that would have made it a bit nicer, to be stuck at home with tamales!

  8. SteveO

    I think most folks see “corn husks” on the ingredient list and quit right there.

    But ten bucks says if you could talk Ronco into selling a tamale maker, you’d sell a ton to those same folks!!

    In a nation that has produced snow cone machines, corn dog machines, and an inside-the-egg-scrambler, a tamale maker has to be in the wings, yeah?

  9. SteveO

    Just wondering… if you’re from Nebraska, you’re a Corn Husker. But, shouldn’t “husker” mean “someone who puts the husk on an ear of corn”? Taking the husk off should be “de-husking.”

  10. Wendy

    I have a sort of sick fascination with those weird “omelet pans”, because a lot of people seem to think they’re “REAL omelet pans, instead of just a skillet”. I’m sure something similar has been/will be invented for tamales. Possibly adapted for use in the microwave. And let’s make the dough out of wheat flour, because there’s something sort of primitive about corn.

    An otherwise-intelligent guy at the tamale making class said “Oh, I bet I know how you make tamales! You must put the filling in a spoon, and then you wrap the dough around the spoon, and then you slide the spoon out!” (His wife looked at him like he was insane.)

  11. Wendy

    Okay, I just read a sad story and watched a horrifying video about the Tio Carlos Tamale King tamale machine, a sort of tamale extruder.

    http://www.tamaleking.com/page5.html (the story)

    http://www.tamaleking.com/page1.html (I watched the Part Two video)

    I didn’t turn the sound on, and I don’t know if that made it more or less horrifying. Possibly the low point is when the demonstrator squeezes what I think must be some sort of meat paste out of a clenched fist.

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