Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tamales y Masa

A Texas dish if ever there was one. These things are insidious. As soon as you eat one, you're hooked for life! They're also ubiquitous at any festive or holiday table in Texas. Enjoy ya'll! Also, they're totally time intensive...set aside a day to make them, with the reward being Tamales for dinner!

Tamale Filing:

1 15lb pork shoulder (bone in)
1 pkg. dried, prepared corn husks
Cayenne Pepper
Fajita Seasoning
Chili Poweder (as hot as you can stand it)
Garlic (crushed or powdered - your choice)
1 large Onion, finely chopped
Prepared Masa

Steamer and Pot - (I use a two tier bamboo steamer, but the method it up to you. You can invest in a tamale steamer, but bamboo is cheaper, easier to clean and very useful in it's own right.)
Tongs (your best way to avoid nasty burns from the steam)

Preheat your oven to 375F. Prepare your pork leg by sprinkling liberally with spices. As much or as little as you'd like. (We like it hot, but the spices are totally up to you - feel free to experiment, it's the joy of cooking!) Place in a large baking dish, put about 2-3 inches water in the bottom and bake until done (about 3-5 hours depending on how thick the leg, fat content, etc.)

Soak your corn husks in cool water as you bake your pork leg. (The cool water will soften them up but not rush the process.)

When roast is done, allow to cool to a handleable temperature, reserving liquid. As soon as you can handle it, debone it and shred the meat into bite-size pieces. (Cut the meat before shredding it as it makes it a bit easier.) When meat is totally shredded, place into large pot on medium heat, along with onions. Place in broth from baking pan. Boil slowly until meat is totally tender, and water is mostly gone (about 1/4" deep at most). Prepare Masa as the pork cooks the second time (recipe follows).

When boiled down, cool to handleable temperature again. Prepare your working surface with a towel, newspapers, or wax paper. (Tamales can get really messy, really quickly.) Keep a towel and small bowl of water on hand for the Masa (NEVER allow your Masa to dry out!)

Place corn husks on towels and allow to dry slightly. Rub them gently prior to using each one (removing the water allows the Masa to adhere - a necessity). Take a small amount of Masa (a teaspoon or so) and rub gently onto corn husk. Use your fingers or a spatula to push out. You may want to cover all the corn husk on one edge to ensure overlap when cooking. I prefer to use my fingers as I can judge the depth of the Masa more easily. You want the Masa thick enough to cover the husk, but not so thick as to overpower the filling. You'll learn how thick by trial and error.

I cover the husk about 4-5" long with the Masa. The longer the Masa covering, the more filling it will need. However, you don't want a cigarette for a tamale either. Again, a total trial and error learning experience.

When the husk is covered to your satisfaction, place some of the meat onto it. The amount is again totally up to you, just remember to put it in the middle of the Masa mix, and that you'll need to fold the Masa totally around the filling. (No one likes tamales that fall apart, trust me.)

Roll the smaller edge over the filling. Fold the larger edge of the Masa coated husk over the top (yes the husk will touch the Masa, it's okay, that's what you want). Tuck the top end of the husk (there should be NO MASA on it) over the seam. Flip over and place on plate. Continue wrapping. (This part takes the longest.)

You're best idea is to start water boiling in your pot for the steamer as soon as you're first couple of tamales are wrapped. Place the steamer into or on the pot of water to allow it to heat up, thus cutting your cooking time.

When you have a sufficient number of tamales wrapped, begin steaming them. Remember to place them ONLY against the sides of the steamer, leaving the center open to allow steam to reach all the tamales. Put them several layers deep to quicken the amount cooked in the least time possible. WATCH THE STEAM!! (I know this from painful experience...steam don't care if it's you or the tamales it cooks!) Time the tamales at 35-45 minutes. Check them! The Masa on the outer flap will be moist, but not gummy. If still gummy, continue to steam until firm but moist. Do NOT let the steamer boil dry. A good rule of thumb is that if the top tamale is cooked, all the others are too. This goes up exponentially if you have multiple steaming baskets being used.

Store your steamed tamales in a moist, warm environment before serving. In the oven with a hot bowl of water underneath them is a great way to do it.

When all your tamales are steamed, enjoy them by removing the corn husk. No President Carters out there, PLEASE!! The husk can be soaked and reused if you want to make more later, but I'd just buy a new packet of husks. Easier and less time consuming, plus they're usually very cheap.

If you want to make the tamales decorative or more festive, you can dye the husks by adding your choice of food colorings to the soaking water. Also, you can tear some husks into small strips and wrap them around the rolled tamales, tying in a bow on the front side (non-seam).

Masa Dough:

8 cups Masa Harina (NOT to be confused with Harina Preperada)
1 1/3 cups Vegetable Shortening or Lard (I use Shortening)
2 tsp. Salt
6 Cups warm beef or pork broth

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Dough should have the consistency of thick frosting. If too moist and more Masa, if too dry add more broth.

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