For many families, Tamales at Christmas is a long time tradition. Especially for the Hispanic community. Making them is actually a family event for most. It is a time for Grandmothers, Aunts, Moms and children to get together for a fun family gathering.
There is no such thing as just making a few. Dozens are made at one time with extra for the freezer.Thus the assembly line of friends and family working together in the kitchen is quite handy.
Many southern states, especially in Texas enjoy including Tamales in the menu during the Christmas Holiday. Our family included.
Creating a homemade Mexican Christmas Meal with all the trimmings is an excellent alternative to another Turkey or Ham. I include side dishes of dried beans from the garden and Mexican rice. Pico de gallo gives you a chance to use fresh cilantro from the garden in a mixture of fresh diced tomatoes and onions. And who doesn't love guacamole with fresh avocados, minced onion, more cilantro and fresh squeezed lemons.
There are a whole host of drinks that can be served with Mexican dishes, from hot to cold. We had a wonderful time last Christmas serving Margaritas while the dinner was being prepared. Home brewed iced teas with lemon and lime wedges is a must. And then Mexican Hot Cocoa or coffee goes well with dessert.
Traditionally Tamales made in Mexico use a tremendous amount of Lard and some use a whole lot of butter. Butter would be a healthier choice if organic and unsalted. I chose to go another route entirely using an organic canola or corn oil. The tamales come out delicious and the masa sticks together wonderfully without the Lard and butter. You also get a lot of fat in the broth from cooking the meat, so there is really no need for more fat than that.
We also had an added bonus this summer with a wonderful corn harvest. I saved plenty of the corn husks just for making Tamales. I enjoy knowing that at least the corn husks were organic. I haven't seen them sold that way in the store, so be sure to soak and wash them well.
There are no exact measurements for the herbs and spices in this recipe. It is more a matter of taste. I can say though that the ones that I've listed make the tamales most delicious. Keep in mind that the cinnamon is really a key ingredient.
Pork Ribeye Roast or Chicken Breasts
Broth made from roast or chicken
4.4 lb. Bag Masa
Cinnamon Basil (if available)
Fresh Minced Garlic
Sea Salt to taste
Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
A Carrot and a Parsnip
Organic Canola or Corn Oil
The herbs and spices in this recipe are according to taste.
I use my big canning pot for soaking the corn husks in water with just a tiny tad of vinegar for cleaning. They really didn't need the vinegar, but old habits die hard sometimes. By soaking the dried husks it makes them soft and pliable for putting in the filling. They need to soak for at least an hour for best results.
I start my meat the night before in my crockpot before we plan to make them. I did pork in one and chicken in the other this time. I chose a pork ribeye roast, not real big and some chicken breasts for the other one. .
I make plenty of broth in the crockpot as well because you need it for the Masa. This is a great time to use some of those spectacular herbs and veggies from the garden. Cinnamon is a key secret ingredient in tamales. I use some ground cinnamon as well as add the flower heads from my cinnamon basil. The flowers of most herbs are really the essence of the herb when they are fresh from the garden. Mexican Oregano and Thyme are also very delicious in the broth. You will also need Chile Powder, fresh minced garlic, minced onions, celery seed and a good pinch of cumin powder A dash of sea salt and fresh ground pepper is always important. I also chop up some carrots and a small amount of parsnips to give the broth a deeper flavor. By morning the meat is so tender and easily shreds for the filling.
Masa usually comes in 4.4 lb. bags. I start by using half a bag in my mixing bowl. I mince cinnamon basil, garlic powder, sea salt, cinnamon and chili powder to taste and whisk it together. I use 1 cup of oil per half bag. Drain your broth from your meat and set the meat aside. Start by adding 1 cup of broth at a time.With the paddle turn the mixer on low. I want the masa to get wet enough that you can squeeze it in your hand and it feels moist, not crumbly and not soggy.
Keep adding broth little by little until you get the desired consistency.
I take a corn husk out of the canner and gently shake off the water. Lay it on a board and get a fair size ball of the Masa in your hand. About the size of a golf ball is good. Place it in the corn husk and spread it by pressing with your finger tips until it is about a quarter inch thick. You want to make it easy to roll and wrap so keep it away from the pointed end of the husk at least a quarter of the way down.Also keep the Masa away from the sides by at least 1/2 inch on both sides. Next take your shredded meat and put a small amount down the center of the masa. Now I fold the entire thing in half length wise and roll it from the folded end. Then take the pointed tip of the husk and fold it down. The wide part of the husk will be open a small bit.
Set each one on a sheet of wax paper or a large cookie sheet until you have them all done.
I use a big ole pasta pot for steaming the tamales. Place them in the strainer pointed side down. You need to stack them in rather tightly so they don't fall over.
Put a small amount of water in the pot and set the strainer in it. You need enough water to bring to a boil, but not coming up into the strainer.
Bring it to a boiling steam and then turn it down immediately to med. to med. low and keep it at a gentle steam. Take the lid off and place a clean cotton towel over the tamales and put the lid back on. This will help keep them from drying out.
They will take about 2 hours to be finished. Make some of your favorite chili sauce to put on top.