I’ve been passionate about tamales if since I was a small child and the woman who worked in my father’s garment factory would bring us corn husk-wrapped tamales at Christmas.
Unless you live in an area with a large Hispanic population, it’s hard to find fresh tamales so I learned how to make my own. My technique and process is a combination of what I’ve read in cookbooks and my tendency to cut corners.
Plan on devoting 4-5 hours to make the tamales. A large portion of this time is cooking and not preparation.
Get a hunk or two of pork and along with equal amount of chicken such as breasts or thighs. Plop the meat in a pot with a dozen or so assorted dried chili peppers. Add water to cover the meat. Cook for at least an hour until the meat is well cooked and flavorful. At this point, you can refrigerate the meat and do the rest of preparations the following day. Don’t discard any of the water or boiled chilies.
Either shred the meat or quickly pulse in a food processor (guess which one I do). Ladle in some of the water so the meat is moist. Mince or pulse the chilies from the water and also add to the meat.
Slice a can of olives in half (the olives not the can). Set aside.
Beat two cubes of margarine (lard is traditional) in a large bowl until fluffy. Add several cups of masa (fine corn meal for tortillas and tamales). Continue beating, alternating with ladles of the water from the meat. You’ll need a sizable amount of dough, which should be the consistency of soft pie dough and hold together when squished into a ball. The water from the meat should be sufficient to flavor the masa. If not, add some chili powder and other seasonings like cumin and coriander.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple layers of dried corn husks and weigh down with an open steamer basket or plate. Boil the husks for at least ten minutes until soft. Every time you remove husks to be rolled, add another dozen or so dried husks and replace the steamer basket.
Drain a handful of husks then lay them down so the wide end is facing you. Plop a handful of masa in the middle, towards the bottom of each husk then add some meat and half an olive. Here’s a picture off the Internet as to how it looks:
Fold the edges of the tamales over the filling then fold the short end up to form a little package. The filling will peak out of one end.
Repeat many, many times until you have a huge bowl of ready-to-cook tamales or until you run out of ingredients or patience. Here’s what MY tamales looked like before cooking.
Place your steamer basket on the bottom of your largest pot. Add water until it comes up the bottom of the steam basket. Lay a couple of cooked husks over the top of the steamer basket.
Enlist the help of another person to help place the tamales on the steam basket. They need to stand on end with the filling pointing up. If you don’t tie them… like me… they tend to open up as you stand them on end. Keep adding tamales until they fit snuggly in the pot. The picture below was taken off the Internet and because the tamales are tied, they don’t need to be squished too tightly into the pot.
Cover the pot, turn on the burner, and steam the tamales for at least an hour or until you see that the masa has cooked.
Remove from the pot and enjoy! Or if you made a massive number of tamales like I did (second photo), you’ll need to remove the tamales from the pot, add more water and stand up more tamales to cook. Then repeat for a third time!
I ended up freezing four bags of tamales to enjoy later in the year.