Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm Baaaaaaaacccckkkk....
Yeah, yeah, I know... I been busy.

But I finally got some time to try something new. Something I've been wanting to try for several years now and lacked the info and nerve to try.

Guess I'm getting older, and maybe a bit wiser... or at least I found a good reference to show me the basics on......


Yep, those little corn wrapped logs of Mexican lovin...

I've loved tamales just about my whole life. In my early years, I thought tamales were something that came from a can. As I got older, I learned that, well... they do come in a can.
In all fairness, in my little corner of the world, we didn't even really get any good Mexican restaurants until the last 15 or so years... so it's no wonder I grew up in what was essentially a tamale wastland.
Oh, sure... I could get those parchment wrapped, grease laden things in the can... in fact, that was ALL I could get.

Flash forward to the present... so much has changed.... we now have the Interweb thingy... HiDef Flat Screen TeeVees, DVR's, MRE's, a worldwide recession, economic meltdowns, illegal immigrations, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi....
Maybe those inned tamales weren't so bad after all.... but I digress.

It's no secret I'm an Alton Brown fan. I love the science behind the cooking. I'm at heart a 'why' kinda guy. You can tell me how to do something, but unless I understand the 'why' I'm doing it, and the 'what' that's really happening, I pretty much don't get it, nor do I care. I'm just not the kind of person who can insert tab A into Slot B and be happy.

Recently, the Good Eats tamale episode re-aired, and I got it recorded on my DVR, and watched it on my HiDef Flat Screen TeeVee, then did some research on the Interweb. Net effect was I now felt I was, finally, once and for all, equipped for the challenge of making tamales.

As with most things we undertake, it was much simpler than expected (I said that about childbirth once, and the look I got from the wife.... well, never again....)

The ingredient list is pretty simple, the process even more so. I won't kid you... it takes a little practice making the tamales, but I did my second pass today, and I'm now considering myself a tamale expert.

Here's the recipe...

Group 1
2-3 pound boneless pork shoulder, cubed in 2" chunks

Group 2
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp fresh roasted and ground cumin seeds (or plain ground cumin is fine, too)

Mix this all together. We'll use half in a second, and the other half later.

Oh yeah, I used a couple teaspoons of hickory smoked salt.

Group 3
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, finely chopped

Group 4
2 pounds yellow corn masa (or corn meal, but the texture is much coarser)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
8 ounces lard (yes, LARD)

1 large package dried corn shucks

Put the cubed pork into a pot or dutch oven with enough water to cover, add half of the spice mix from Group 2 and bring to a boil.

Lower heat to medium/low and simmer for about 3 hours, until pork shreds when looked at sternly. Remove from pan to cool and shred. Remove cooking liquid to a bowl so it can cool too.
In the same pan, add the contents of Group 3, and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the shredded pork, set temp to medium/low and simmer for another hour. At this time, heat up a large pot of water to boiling, and submerge your dried corn shucks into the water to soften up. Once the water boils, remove from the heat, and let soak while the pork is cooking the second time.
The pork after the second cooking.

Oh yeah.... it's THAT good....

Remove the pork to the bowl to cool again. Unless, that is, you like dipping your fingers into scalding hot meat.

Get a large mixing bowl, and add the stuff in Group 4.
Mix the masa and baking powder together first, then add the lard, pinching it with your fingers like you would if making biscuit dough. Once the mix is grainy/mealy, add about 2 cups of the cooled cooking liquid. Work it into the dough. Add more as necessary. You're looking for a fairly dry dough but wet enough that it holds together when you squeeze it into a ball. If it's too dry, your tamale will fall apart.
Take a wet corn shuck from the pot, and place it on the counter.
Roll out a ball of dough, slightly bigger than a golf ball. If you don't play golf, then make it about as big as a large egg. If you don't eat eggs, close this browser window, turn off your computer, and go away... far away...
I usually roll the ball into a tube to make the flattening a little more easy.

Using moistened fingers (a wet corn shuck works GREAT), spread the dough into a roughly oval or rectangular shape. The more rectangular, the better, in my opinion.

Take a large pinch of the meat mixture (probably about a good tablespoon full) and place it in the middle of the dough, spreading it out longwise. DON'T overfill the dough, or you won't get the tamale closed... and then you've got tamale casserole. Still good... but not what we're going for here.

Tuck and roll the tamale up in the shuck. Fold the narrow end up to seal, leaving the 'wide' end open.

Repeat this until all the dough, meat or corn shucks are gone. If you get lucky, they all run out pretty much at the same time. If not, at least hope you run out of dough or shucks first, because the meat is worth eating all by itself...
Once they're all wrapped up, place them sealed end down in the pot you've been using (unless you're REALLY into washing dishes). If there's more pot than tamales, put a coffee cup or something in the pot to fill the empty space.

Cover, bring to a boil, then drop the heat to medium and cook for another hour to hour and a half.

Oh, and you probably want to try to make all the tamales the same length... preferably one that will fit in your pan... otherwise you get some that stick up above the rim, and some that don't... which makes using a lid sort of problematic at best....
UNLESS... you're a quick thinker....

Yes, that's a mixing bowl on top of my pot.... don't laugh... it worked.
Once they're done, remove them from the pot to a holding dish, and reduce the cooking liquid by about a third. This really ups the flavor. If you want a thicker gravy, mix up some masa with water, and use it to thicken the liquid, much like a roux.
Unwrap, add some sauce, and tear into your homemade tamales.

Oh yeah, baby....
For the perfect sauce for these, I'd heartily recommend Chilebrown's red chili sauce. Tried to direct link, but I couldn't find it.... Drop him a line... I'm sure he'll cough it up.
As usual... if I can do it, so can you.... if you like tamales, there's no reason not to give this a try.
I used a 4 pound shoulder, and adjusted everything accordingly. When I was done, I had 32 tamales. Ate a couple, and vacuum sealed the rest for later enjoyment.