I will never say no to Mexican food. It’s one of my favorite cuisines! But despite my love for burritos and quesadillas and even nachos, I don’t often cook it at home (save for the occasional breakfast burrito). I don’t claim to know much about this cuisine either — I definitely know the Americanized version vs. the real authentic thing! But as with most things, I’m trying to learn as much as I can!
A couple weeks ago, I had a hankering for tamales – a comfort food that is popular everywhere from the southwest to Mexico to the Caribbean. It dates back to Mesoamerica with the Aztecs and the Mayas and is a dish steeped in history and tradition. There’s so many different “authentic” recipes out there on the internet with different fillings… but I found this great recipe for pork tamales from my new favorite food blog, No Recipes.
I’ll be honest, I might have had tamales one summer years ago in Guatemala (I have a faint memory of this), but sadly lately the only tamales I’ve eaten are of the Trader Joe’s frozen variety. While those are good…. making homemade tamales is 10x better and I don’t know if I can go back to the store bought kind.
(BTW, if you’re in NYC, First We Feast has a great list of the best tamales in the area. I’m going to check out some of their East Village offerings soon!).
Now, this is a pretty involved set of recipes from braising the pork to making the sauce to making the tamale batter to actually assembling them. It’s not for the faint of heart. This turned into a weekend affair (which I loved… day long cooking marathons are my favorite) and it was well worth it! Just a fair warning…
And now on to the cooking! This recipe includes the tamale filling, the masa or cornmeal batter and a red sauce. The braising liquid goes into the batter and the sauce FYI. We’ll start with the filling…
Tamale Pork Filling
1 large onion sliced crosswise into 3 rounds
4 large cloves garlic
3 lbs pork butt
2 dried Chiles de Arbol
1 carrot, cut in half
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground cloves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp salt
To start, broil the onion, garlic and jalepeno until charred. Flip them halfway through. Set aside once done.
Take your hunking piece of pork butt and sear in a dutch oven (about 5-7 minutes) Flip the pork over and brown each side.
Add the charred veggies, chilies, carrot, bay leaves, and spices (cinnamon, cloves, oregano, coriander and salt). Pour in about 4-6 cups of water to submerge the pork. Bring to a boil and skim any material on top.
Cover and let simmer on medium low heat until the pork falls apart with a fork. This should take about 2-3 hours.
Transfer the pork to a cutting board, reserving the braising liquid, and roughly chop.
This pork was ridiculously good on its own. It would be great in tacos or a sandwich, but definitely the true star of these tamales!
10 dried Chiles de Arbol
2 large onions minced
3 large cloves garlic minced
1 can whole stewed tomatoes
2 tsp honey
1 tsp salt
2 tsp oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
Cut the tops off the chiles and cut down the length of the chile. Remove the seeds and roast the chiles at 350 F degrees for 5 minutes. After roasting, rehydrate the chiles in a bowl with boiling water. Allow them to rehydrate for 10-15 minutes.
Sauté minced onions and garlic over medium heat with a tablespoon of vegetable oil until fully caramelized.
In a food processor, add the drained chiles, canned tomatoes, and caramelized onions. Add about a cup of the reserved pork stock and add the honey and spices (salt, mexican oregano, ground cumin and ground coriander) and process until smooth.
Strain the sauce through a strainer. *Reserve 1 cup of sauce and mix the remaining sauce to the shredded pork.
1 package dried corn husks
4 cups cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
about 3 cups pork stock
1 1/3 cup lard or Crisco
Rehydrate the corn husks in warm water. This will make them pliable to fold and wrap.
To make the masa batter, whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add 3 cups of the reserved pork stock and mix together to combine. Add more or less pork stock until the mixture is about the consistency of cookie dough. Beat the Crisco until light and fluffy. Incorporate the cornmeal mixture to the Crisco until well combined.
Now it’s time to assemble the tamales. Place the corn husk with the narrow end pointed to the left on a cutting board. Spread a thin layer of the masa onto the corn husk. Place some of the pork onto the middle layer of the masa and now fold the tamales into a neat little package.
Once you’ve assembled your tamales, place them in a steamer in a deep pot. I ended up using two bamboo steamers. Add about an inch or so of water and cover the pot with a kitchen towel and before placing the lid on top. Your tamales will steam for about 1 ½ hours.
And finally as your tamales steam and you do a boat load of dishes, the final step is to make the sauce to dress your cooked tamales. Place 2 large tomatoes in a food processor and process until smooth. Strain into a small sauce pan. Add the reserved mole sauce and cook until thickened.
After all day cooking the various components and letting the tamales steam away, taking a bite of that first tamale was pure heaven. They are delicious on their own but after all the work, they tasted that much better. This is probably one of the recipes I’m most proud of mastering lately!