Tamales

For years I have been wanting to make tamales for my family and friends, but every year I chicken out and just stare at the ingredients. I know now though why I hesitated so much. Making tamales is hard work and a long, messy process. But now that the dishes are finally clean, my counter tops and dining table don’t feel greasy anymore, and my friends are happy, it really is worth it – only once a year though.

Living in a very small town in Western Kentucky I couldn’t find the special corn meal for the dough (masa) to make the outer part of the tamal, so I ordered it online on Amazon.  Here is the link for the masa mix I used. And on a trip to Atlanta I bought the corn husks. And on another trip to Louisville I bought the ancho chile for the sauce I made to cook my shredded chicken. Isn’t it fun to discover and explore?!

tamales

So again, I had everything I needed to make them, but this time I promised my friends I would be bringing them to their Super Bowl party – so I couldn’t back out like I had done so many times in the past.

I made the tamales on a Saturday when there was nothing much to do. My oldest was going to be out, my youngest had a new series of Pokemon she hadn’t watched, and hubby had a project he was going to work on. So after a big breakfast, I cleared the kitchen and began.

First, I took two large chicken breasts and boiled them. I added salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin and some bouillon to the water. This I used for my chicken stock.(1 pot dirtied)

After the breasts cooked, I took them out to cool (1 dish dirtied). After that I whipped about a cup of shortening for the dough with an electric mixer.(2 dishes total dirtied, 1 very greasy electric mixer) {YES! My mother yelled at me already so don’t tell me I should have used lard. I know! I actually thought I had some, and I did, but like 3 years ago when I originally had bought the tub of lard for tamales, but I never made them and threw the lard out last year I think! So instead of quitting – which I was about to do – I improvised and used shortening! Quit judging me!} After whipping the shortening, I then took another bowl (3 dishes now dirtied) and plunged the corn husk leaves in hot water to soften them. After that I used another bowl (yup that’s 4) to make the masa. I followed the instructions on the bag, but ended up using a little more chicken stock than what it called for.

molcajete

After making the masa, I placed the dough ball in the bowl with the whipped shortening and then mixed the two together using my hands! This was so greasy! It’s like mixing frosting with your hands!

shortening-masa

As I was mixing, I was looking for a consistency that was solid and wet enough to spread easily on the corn husks. I had to use some more of the chicken stock to get it just right. But here is where I think I made my mistake. I added some more bouillon (I use a paste) to the masa and mixed it in. I shouldn’t have. I wanted the tamales to be so tasty that I think I didn’t let the natural flavors just be. Although the tamales did taste fine, to me they tasted too “commercially”.

masa

After I achieved what I believed to be a good spreadable masa, I began to make the sauce for my chicken. (2nd pot dirtied). I placed 3 ancho chiles (I only used 1 though in the sauce though because I was afraid it would be too spicy), three roma tomatoes,  1/4 of a white onion, 2 garlic cloves, and salt into a pot and boiled them for about 10 minutes or until they were tender. I did remove all the seeds, tops and ridges from inside of the chiles before I boiled them.

After they were boiled, I transferred all these ingredients to a blender and added salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and cumin to taste. (1 dirtied blender) I also, at this time, removed the corn husk leaves from their water bath and spread them out onto a towel to dry out.

After the sauce was made, I took my chicken breasts and shredded them and placed them in a bowl (5th dish dirtied). I then added the sauce onto a cast iron pan with some vegetable oil to cook, (3rd pan dirtied)  and then added the chicken.

shredded-chicken

I had to add some more of my chicken stock to the salsa because it did thicken a bit.I cooked the chicken until it was softened and the smell was just wonderful!

chicken

After all of this was done I then began the assembling of the tamales. I placed the large bowl with the dough, the shredded chicken, the corn husk leaves, a large dish (6th one), and two spoons on my dining table. I asked my daughter if she would like to help me and she agreed and she loved helping me spread the dough onto the corn husk. I will warn you though that the dough is naturally greasy. My daughter got the dough all over the table, the floor and herself. Our dog probably ate about half a pound of raw masa from the floor. Where . . . is . . .  . he? Anyway, but these are times when I just couldn’t worry. I was passing a tradition down to my daughter daing it, and the dog dying from a heart attack wasn’t going to ruin this for us! We are making memories! So we assembled on.

Now, on the corn husk there is a very smooth side and a side that is bumpy or wrinkly. The dough is spread on the smooth side. After spreading the dough with the “grain”, using up about a third of the leaf, you then place some of the chicken filler in the middle and then fold the corn husk in half like a taco. After that you fold one more time and then bring the pointy end up to the thick end. If you can’t envision it, look it up on YouTube. My daughter was able to do it on her own around her third tamale.

We ended up making about 24 small to medium tamales.

After making them, I placed them in a stock pot (5th pot dirtied). But before putting the tamales in, I placed a steamer mesh and added water to the bottom of the stock pot. I then lined the bottom with corn husk leaves so that the actual tamales don’t get water in them.

tamales-3

After I added all our tamales and made sure they were all upright, I then placed more corn husks around the edges of the stock pot and then wrapped them up like a little baby.

tamales-2

I then placed a clean towel on top of that and put the stock pot’s lid on top. I steamed them on med-high heat for about an hour and 10 minutes.

At the end of the long wait, I pulled one out and unfolded it. The dough and the corn husk separated easily (which means they’re done) and I took a bite. They tasted good, but I think I over did it on the bouillon. Oh well. My family and I shared that one tamal and they all loved it. My daughter especially had a little proud face when we took them to the Super Bowl party and she found out that they all were gone quickly.

Now, Super Bowl was obviously on Sunday the next day so to reheat them I placed them flat in my cast iron skillet and toasted them a little on low heat to heat them through. This did make them taste better in my opinion because of the smoky flavor that is added by toasting the corn husks a bit.

Tamales are hard work, but it really was worth it. I now understand more why women in Mexico choose to make tamales with other women. It certainly is not something to be done alone. To converse, laugh and pass on the culture to our children is something easily entrusted through cuisine. In my opinion, it is something that currently is forgotten. With boxed dinners, microwaves, and fast food, we don’t have the time to sit with our children and just exist WITH them. Although most of us (me included) will not be making tamales all the time, we could make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with our kids. They can help us make some hot chocolate or cookies. Let us teach them to create deliciousness in the kitchen.

When Elijah was down and tired of his life, God did something awesome to comfort him. He fed him. I will leave you with this verse:

And the LORD said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you . . . So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food . . . . . . he reached the mountain of God.  I Kings 19:7-8

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