I made Tamales!

So I made tamales for the first time in my life, why?  Because we challenged one of the guys in our office to a Tamale Cook-Off.  What was I thinking?  I’ve never made them before!  But how hard could it be, right? So I’ve spent the last 2 weeks searching on-line for the perfect tamale recipe – man there are a bunch out there!  To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming.  I mean, you can make them sweet or savory, out of creamed corn, strawberries, pork, chicken, meat, pineapples, just about anything really. Then there’s the masa (the dough), it can be flour based or corn based.  And then the husks which can be corn husks, banana leaves, basically anything that was an outer encasement of a fruit or vegetable that’s large enough to wrap around the filling.  The decisions alone can be enough to make you just say *&^%-it and buy them already made from the nearest Latin market instead.

So what do I do?  I go to the closest Latin market and avoid the pre-made displays of tamales at all costs.  Instead I figured that I would just make it up as I go – I mean why not?  I can cook, I know the basic concept and it should be fun to make — and what’s more fun than experimentation??

I purchased corn husks, there were two kinds – One had a label that was all green & red and had cluttered writing on it, the other had a clean label, easy to read — so I bought the simple one.  Then I went over to the butcher and surveyed the protein options — ohh, looky here, the chicken thighs were on sale, I’ll take 12 of them please :) .  I go over to the chili section and there were SOOO many to choose from — I think I’ll just use the green chili sauce I have at home.    Off  to the produce — we’re good, I’ve got carrots, celery and garlic at home.  And the last stop would be the masa – I saw some premade corn and flour masa (dough) over by the butcher, close my eyes and pick a bag from the refrigerated display and flour masa it is.  Alright, let’s do this!

Tamale FillingAt home, I fill a pot with water and set it to boil.  I separate the skin from the thighs and throw them into the pot, followed by some shredded carrots, chopped celery and a little bit of chicken bouillon powder.  I let it all boil for about an hour.  Once the chicken is practically falling off of the bone, I take the chicken out and shred it.  I then strain the broth and place the carrots, celery and shredded chicken into another pot.  Add the green chili, garlic, salt, pepper, garam marsala (because I had it and I just like the flavor), celery salt and parsley (because I’m not a cilantro fan) and cook it all together. Filling is DONE! (oh, I put the broth in some containers and will use them later for another recipe — it’s yummy stuff!)

Time to assemble.  I get the pre-made masa and the corn husks, which I’ve been soaking in water for the last hour in order to help make them more pliable) and arrange my work area.  Grab a husk place a thin layer of dough in it and then place some filling in the center.  Fold the tamale – which I found to be not so easy probably because I’m so used to unfolding them, that folding them is a new concept to me, tie it and set them aside.  Once they were assembled, I set up my steamer with about 4 inches of boiling water, and arranged the tamales.  They steamed for about 3 hours until the masa pulled away from the husks on their own.

Today I tried them for the first time and they were yummy!  Now that wasn’t so hard :)

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