Sunday, 13 December 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year...


Photo credit: Phil_g
Tamales are a traditional Christmas food in many Mexican households. Get all the family involved in the preparation and the whole process doesn't seem so labour intensive! Here's some tamale-making advice I recently came across including tips from the likes of Diana Kennedy.

Wrappers: Look for dried corn husks in markets that cater to Latinos. They should be at least six inches long and six inches at their widest end. To soften, soak in hot water an hour or more. Some tamale makers use parchment paper. Clean them if not pre-washed. Buy extra; they tear easily. Torn pieces can be overlapped for wraps, or cut up for ties.


Fillings: Whether shredded meat, beans, fresh chiles and cheese -- they must be flavourful. Think chicken in a tomatillo sauce, pork or beef cooked with pureed red chiles, cumin and garlic, roasted and peeled poblano peppers with cheese. Cut corners with prepared food from Mexican markets. Fill dulce (sweet) tamales with raisins, other dried fruits or coconut.

Dough: Masa, sold in specialty and some mainstream markets, is corn flour from the Mexican equivalent of hominy. Look for "masa para tamales," although easier-to-find "masa para tortillas" is fine for all or part of the dough. The best tamale dough is made with lard, which adds flavour. The masa is ready when a small ball of it floats in water. If not, keep mixing.

Rolling: Move quickly; wrap tamales while heating the cooking water. Hold the husk, narrow side toward you. Spread a layer of masa (thickness determines the tamale size). For steamed tamales, leave space with no masa at the bottom and sides of the husk; for boiled tamales also leave space at the top. Put filling on masa, fold over sides of the shuck then roll into a tube so masa encases filling.

Cooking: Steaming produces a more consistent flavor. Place tamales in steamer, open end up. Cover open ends with cornhusk and use a tight-fitting lid to minimize evaporation into the tamales. Diana Kennedy says coins in the water help gauge the water level (when the coins stop rattling, it's too low). Boiling is faster, and when the husks are folded at both ends, flavor and texture are not compromised.

Storing: Freeze six months to two years, depending on how well they are wrapped or sealed. Steam or reheat in a sealed bag in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, or thaw overnight in a refrigerator before briefly microwaving them. Frozen boiled tamales can be reheated in seasoned boiling water.

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