My grandfather died in a December day so many years ago that I hardly remember him. But since then the whole family used to gathered together the same day in December at the farm. We call that ‘Cabo de año”. It is a ceremony or religious service performed on the anniversary of a person’s death. Our family had a mass service at night but during the day it looked more like a family celebration. I have memories of those gatherings been like a big party. There were so many relatives to count all of the them. There was a prayer time in the evening that will be the culmination of the day of remembrance. But for me the big attraction will be the cooking going on at the kitchen. The men will arrive very early in the morning to kill the pig. Yes, a large pig that has been feed the whole year for this purpose. Part of the animal will be cooked as Carnitas and Chicharrones and some for the different stew dishes that will be served during lunch. But after that all the women and some men of the family will get in to the main dish for dinner. Making tamales. Everyone will be working together for the “Tamalada” ( a tamale making party, well sort of….)You could hear stories being told from times long gone, funny ones and even scary ones, during those Tamales making time. That is the fun part of making tamales that the family get together to make them as a family affair and you have a nice time not only eating them but making them. But if you want to cook tamales and your relatives are far away, invite your neighbors or you friends. You will have a memorable time cooking together.
Nowadays, I usually make them for my family planning a little bit ahead of time. One day cooking the filling and the next day preparing the corn masa dough and the assembling of the tamales. That way it seems easy to make them since I usually make them by myself.
Tamales are traditionally made of a corn base dough, it’s Nahuatl name is: tamalli. Meaning wrapped corn. It is steamed in a leaf wrapper. The most common wrapping is a corn husk , a banana leave , avocado leave, hoja santa , and other non toxic leaves used in some regions of Mexico. The wrapping is discarded before eating. There are more than 500 varieties of tamales but like a sandwich your imagination is the limit. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheese, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste. One time while cooking tamales at my aunt house we run of the filling and start looking into the fridge to see what else can we use as a filling. There were some leftover beef tips in a Mexican style sauce and that is what we used to finish it up the rest of the dough. Those tamales were the best of that batch.
Ingredients for 30-36 tamales
5 cups of dry masa harina for tamales
13 ounces of lard (1 and 3/4 cups)
( You can use shortening and even vegetable oil)
About 6 cups of chicken broth of more in case dough is to dry
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt to taste
1 ½ pound of chicken breast (to make about 4 cups of shredded chicken)
2 cloves of garlic
2 thick slices of onion
water to cover
1 ½ pound of tomatillos (green tomatoes) husk removed
6 serrano peppers or 4 jalapenos
2 cloves of garlic peeled
Salt to taste
About 45 Corn husk for wrapping
Cooking the chicken:
Place the chicken, onion and garlic in a pot. Cover with water and over medium heat until meat is tender. Cool and shred the chicken.
Mix with the chicken with the sauce in a bowl and set aside.
1. Cook the tomatoes, peppers and garlic in a pot with water. Until they are cooked and tender.
2. Place the tomatoes, peppers and garlic in the blender and puree until smooth.
3. Season with salt.For the dough:
In a large bowl beat the lard until it changes to lighter color. This can be done with the help of your mixer or by hand. Add slowly the corn masa harina, baking powder and chicken broth. Mix well and taste to season with salt. Beat until all ingredients are well combined and dough is light and spongy.
The corn husk:
Remove the husks from their package and place the husks to soak in a warm bath of water for 40 minutes. This could be done in a large pot or in your kitchen sink. This step will help to soften the husks and easily be pliable while wrapping the corn dough.
Assembling the tamales: Remove the husks from their warm bath, dry with cloth or paper towels.
Place the corn husk in your work surface with the wide end facing towards you. Place about 2-3 tablespoons of dough in the center but closer to the bottom of the corn husk spreading evenly. Top with 2 tablespoon of the chicken-green sauce filling in the center of the husk. Fold one side of the husk to the center and fold the other side to the center, too. Fold the bottom towards the center. Repeat process with remaining husks and filling.
Line the tamales in a tray while you are finishing up with the rest of the assembly process. Getting your pot ready for steaming. Add 3 cups of hot water to the pot and place the steamer rack. Place a layer of corn husk on the steamer rack. (Note: you do not need to buy a tamal steamer pot if you don't have it already. Just improvise with what you already have).
Place the tamales in an standing position.
Cover with a layer of the corn husks and a dish towel and the pot lid. Steam for about 60 minutes in a medium heat or after taking one tamal and checking if the husk easily separates from the dough. Check during steaming time in case the steamer need more water. Be careful while removing the lid. Serve while still hot. When done wait for 10 minutes the dough will firm up after that.
To reheat a tamal I use the convenience of the microwave. It just need 1 minute in high per tamal. You can also steam it again to warm it up and the other option is to place it in a hot griddle turning 2 or 3 times until warm.
Tamales keep well in your freezer for a couple of months.