My husband’s hispanic grandmother used to make tamales every Christmas and send them out to all the family too far away to enjoy them in her own kitchen in southern California. They were delicious – we looked forward to them every Christmas. A few years into our marriage, they stopped coming. She was getting old enough that they were too big of a job for her to handle anymore. I wanted to learn how to make them, so I started asking my husband’s aunts in California. I found two problems – one, none of them knew how to make them; two, she barely spoke English and didn’t use recipes because she couldn’t read or write. I have read every tamale recipe I can find, and with a little experimentation I have gotten my own version pretty close to the original. My father-in-law says they taste just the same. Now I make tamales every year for the whole family. I love it that the tradition is still alive! Here’s the recipe if you want to start a tradition of your own.
Ingredients (I’ll explain the measurements later):
- a nice, big pork roast
- corn husks
- masa flour
- corn oil
- chili powder
- garlic powder
- black pepper
The first thing you want to do is cook your pork roast. You can do this two ways. You can put it in a Crock-Pot overnight, or you can boil it. Either way, you cut it into fist-sized chunks so it cooks evenly. Be sure you save the broth – you’ll need it later. You can cook the meat in the morning for afternoon tamale-making, or you can cook it the day before. It’s really up to you.
When the pork roast is cooked and cooled, shred it into small pieces.
At this point, you want to start soaking your corn husks. Take them out of the package and put them in a bowl of hot water to soften up. They will need to soak for 2 or 3 hours before you can really work with them.
Mix the following ingredients into a paste:
- 1/2 c. corn oil
- 6 Tbsp. chili powder
- 3 Tbsp. cumin
- 3 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 2 Tbsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. black pepper
When these are all mixed together, add them to the shredded pork and mix well with your hands. Yes, it’s gross – but it’s the best way to get the consistency right.
Next, you put about 2 pounds (usually half a bag) of masa flour into a large bowl. Add the following spices and mix well:
- 3 Tbsp. paprika
- 3 Tbsp. salt
- 3 Tbsp chili powder
- 3 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
Then you add 2 c. corn oil and about 2 quarts of the pork broth you saved (1 cup at a time), mixing well after every cup of broth. You know it’s right when it looks and feels like peanut butter.
You’re almost ready to make tamales. First, you need to shake the water off the corn husks and let them air dry for a few minutes. Then you lay the husk in front of you with the narrow end to your left. Spread a thin layer of masa on the husk, leaving some space at the left and top with no masa. You can do this however is easiest for you – some people like to use a spoon. I like to use my hands.
Then you put a line of the shredded pork in the middle of the masa. I like to make mine with lots of meat, but not everyone does. Then you can roll your tamale.
This is the part where it gets tricky. All the recipes I read said to roll – for the life of me, I can’t do it. I fold mine – I take the bottom and fold it up to the top, then sort of peel the edge of the husk away from the masa and use it to sqeeze the tamale in nice and tight – THEN I roll it. It’s hard to explain, but once you get your hands on it, I think it will make more sense. Anyway, you roll the tamale from the bottom to the top, then fold the narrow end up against the edge of the husk.
After you roll the tamales, you place them in a steamer with the folded side down. You can buy tamale steamers, but I cheated and made my own. I have a canning pot with a basket for the jars. I line the basket with foil and poke holes in it, then set the handles on the edge of the pot so the basket is raised. (If you have ever used a canner, you know what I’m talking about.) Fill the bottom of the steamer with water, but DO NOT put in so much you get the bottom of your tamales wet – you’ll have soggy tamales. Cover your steamer and bring the water to a boil. When the water boils, turn the heat down and steam for about 2 hours. You will want to check every now and then to make sure the pot doesn’t boil dry.
That’s it! When the masa is firm you know you’re done. Then all you have to do is eat and enjoy!