Sunday was my friend Trevor’s birthday, and since we were both too busy with school to celebrate (pathetic), we celebrated last night! Trevor was my first Austin friend… mainly because we met when I was 15 at a summer camp (!!!) and have stayed in touch all this time! He is an amazing friend and I was happy to cook him up something amazing: made-from-scratch TAMALES!
Note: hot tamales are technically different than what I made, but the post title just sounds better.
So this is a kind of labor-intensive meal (and a long post), but totally worth it. I ate tamales all the time when I lived in Mexico and I dream about the corn filling almost weekly, so I am so proud to bring you this amazing recipe!
First you need to choose your filling. I decided to go with chicken, but beef or pork would work great too! And a lot of tamales in Mexico are done vegetarian or even sweet with fruit — be creative!
You’re going to want to throw your meat of choice into a pot with spices: parsley, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Then fill that sucker up with water (6-8 cups), bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 2 hours. Your apartment will smell intoxicating, try not to eat the walls.
Oh, and you can also spend that 2 hours soaking your husks.
You can find cornhusks at almost any grocery store with a Latin section these days, even outside of Texas! They’re super cheap, too! You grab a bunch and soak it in water, making sure you have something to hold it down so all the husks are submerged. Start with hot water and let it all soak for 45 minutes – 2 hours.
Once the husks are pliable and the chicken is stewed, shred the chicken off the bones and set the cooking liquid aside — DO NOT discard!!! You’ll need it for preparing the masa harina, along with lard.
Get your hands dirty and dig into that lard! You can find masa harina at most stores these days, probably in the same section you find the corn husks. You’re going to combine some salt, baking powder, the masa harina, lard (just do it), and your reserved cooking liquid to make the filling. I recommend adding the liquid little by little until it gets to the right consistency, probably about 2-3 cups until the masa resembles mashed potatoes. And all that spice and flavor from the cooking liquid is perfect!! If you make a sweet tamale, just use warm water.
To construct these delicious pockets of heaven, take your softened corn husks (shake the water off them) and simply put a scoop of the masa with a scoop of the filling and roll it up. Use as much or as little as you want, depending on how big your husks are. Once they’re all constructed, put them in a pot with a steamer basket. I had PLENTY of leftover masa that I froze, by the way.
Once the water in the bottom of the steamer comes to a boil, turn it down to low and cover these. Tamales require a long hot bath and some wine (drank by you, of course) to coax them out of their clothing. Much like me.
While that is happening, you need to make a hot salsa to go with your tamales, naturally. For a super easy tomatillo salsa, go find these cuties in your produce setion!
Throw your tomatillos (sans leaves) whole into a sauté pan with some onion and serrano pepper — which I recommend taking the seeds out of.
When the tomatillos, onions, and peppers are nice and brown, remove them from heat to let cool a bit before throwing them in the blender with some water and pulsing a few times to make a nice chunky salsa.
When your friend makes it over (hi, Trevor!) your tamales should have been steaming for about an hour and a half. Remove them from their bath and serve them with your amazing salsa and black beans.
Not to toot my own culinary horn, but I feel pretty darn proud of myself for making these completely from scratch and having them turn out almost as amazing as I remember from my summer in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Go forth and prosper and get your tamale on.
From-scratch Chicken Tamales (makes many, many tamales)
3-4 chicken legs with skin and bone
1 T chili powder
1 T parsley flakes
1 T ground cumin
1/2 T cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
3 cups masa harina
2-3 cups reserved cooking liquid (from chicken)
2 tsp baking powder
1 T kosher salt
1/2 cup lard or vegetable shortening
Corn husks (soak about 18 in case some are too small or tear)
Warm water for soaking
To make the filling, combine spices, chicken legs, and enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover, and let simmer for 2 hours. At this point, you should also start soaking your corn husks in hot water to make them pliable, at least 45 minutes. Once chicken is done, shred the meat off the bones and use forks to tear into a stringy texture. DO NOT discard cooking liquid, you will need it! Just set it aside. To make the dough, combine the masa harina, lard, baking powder, and salt with your hands. Once it has reached a lumpy consistency, start gradually adding in the reserved cooking liquid, about a cup at a time. Add the liquid and mix with hands until it becomes a mashed potato-like consistency (about 2.5-3 cups cooking liquid used). Once the masa is done, shake the water off the corn husk and scoop some masa and chicken into it. Roll the corn husk and fold it over to cover all of the filling. When all of your tamales are done (you’ll probably have extra masa which you can make in plain tamales or freezer for later), put them in a pot with a steamer basket and steam the tamales for 1 1/2 hours. The dough should come away from the corn husks cleanly when they are done. These can be eaten fresh but also taste great cold!
Super Easy Tomatillo Green Salsa (makes 2-3 cups salsa)
3 large tomatillos (should be bright green in color), leaves removed
1/2 large onion, in large chunks
2 serrano peppers, split down the middle and deseeded
Olive oil cooking spray
In a big fry pan, spray some cooking spray and throw in the peppers (skin side down to start), onions, and whole tomatillos. Occasionally move them around over medium high heat until the tomatillos start turning brown and the onions and peppers are brown. For less intense spice, you can remove the skin of the serrano peppers once it has turned brown, or leave it on for more heat! (Note: wash hands thoroughly after handling peppers!) Once everything is nice and brown, set it aside to cool a bit before putting everything in a blender. You may want to cut the tomatillos in half depending on your blender’s strength. Pour in 1/2 cup water and pulse a few times to render a nice chunky, spicy salsa!