Entrees > Mexico > Tamales >
4 LBS pork shoulder roast
Cumin to taste
Garlic cloves, peeled & minced (amount to taste)
Salt & black pepper to taste
Season the roast with cumin, garlic, salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer roast slowly in a large pot of water until completely cooked, which could take several hours. Remove roast from the water (reserve some of the cooking juices). Place roast on a cutting board or large plate; allow to cool for about two hours. After the meat is sufficiently cool to the touch, start shredding the meat by hand (in 2" or 3" strips). Return the shredded meat to a large skillet; add a bit of the reserved cooking juice. Add more cumin, salt, black pepper and garlic; stir well. Keep warm to add to the Masa-layered corn husks.
Homemade tamales can be made from packaged Masa, which works quite well. Find a 4.5 LB bag of "Maseca" instant corn Masa mix from your local grocery store or Mexican specialty market. Azteca Milling makes an excellent mix, although Quaker now has their own brand as well. Ingredients included in the instant Masa mix are commonly corn, water and lime.
The complete ingredients for Masa dough are as follows:
2 C Maseca
2 C lukewarm water or broth
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
2/3 C lard (or shortening)*
*Hint: For better flavor and easier spreading of the Masa, increase lard to 2 C instead of 2/3 C.
In a large bowl, combine the Maseca with baking powder and salt. Work the water or broth in with your hands to make a soft, moist dough. In another bowl, beat the lard (or shortening) until fluffy. Add the Masa mixture; beat until the dough has a spongy texture. Knead dough for a few minutes. It should have an elastic texture at this point, and not sticky like regular flour-dough.
The Corn Husks:
Corn husks for making tamales can typically be found at Mexican specialty stores, or in the Hispanic foods section of the local grocery store. The husks come from corn on the cob, and need to be cleaned the same way. Most store-purchased corn husks are dried and bleached. The corn "hair" needs to be cleaned out of the husks once you open the package. There are dozens per package, so only take out as many as you need. (Note: Leftover corn husks will store quite well if kept dried). The husks are layered together, so separate them carefully. You will find corn "hair" in the husks (sometimes at random), which needs to be removed. Soak corn husks in a clean sink full of warm water for about ten to fifteen minutes. Soaking softens the husks, making them more pliable and easier to manage. After soaking, place husks in a stainless steel bowl.
Spreading the Masa:
Some people use spoons to spread Masa. However, a quicker method is to use a flat spatula to spread the Masa. Take the spatula flip-side up, and scrape out a chunk of Masa. Take one corn husk at a time and spread it out carefully on a flat surface, such as a table or large counter. The husks are triangular in shape, and you want to have the "pointed" end on top as you look at it. If there are any loose ends on the edges, strip them away and set aside. (Note: You can also reuse the extra strips once they are dried, such as tying various things together). If there is a tear in the husk, you can use a smaller piece of husk to patch the area. Spread some Masa over the tear, and then simply take the smaller piece and fit it over the tear, leaving the end a bit farther out on the bottom. Once you start layering the Masa, it should hold in place.
Scoop the Masa with the spatula and start spreading on the corn husk about two inches from the top. Spread evenly over the husk, including the edges. Some people prefer thick Masa, but normal Masa spread is about 1/8-inch thick. Once you have finished with one husk, set it aside and begin another. As you complete one after the other, you can lay the husks on top of each another (they will not stick together). Repeat process until all of the Masa is used. (You will probably run out of Masa before you run out of husks). Once you get the rhythm of spreading the Masa on the corn husk, it goes very smoothly and quickly.
Filling & Folding the Corn Husks:
Once you have finished spreading Masa on the corn husks, you are ready to start filling them. Using a large spoon, scoop pork filling mixture down the center of the husk. Fill evenly, but make sure to keep it down the middle. Then roll the husk from one side (as if you were rolling a tortilla), tucking carefully but tightly as you go. Once you have rolled the husk completely, fold the slender end over (the tip of the triangle). Repeat with all the husks and the remaining filling.
Cooking the Tamales:
After the husks are filled and rolled, they need to be steamed. Typical "steaming" can be done in a large pot, filled about halfway with water. (You can also use a collapsible steamer basket to set down in the water). Arrange the husks with the folded-side up, and fit them snugly together so they stand upright. Once you have the basket filled, cover and start boiling. Depending on the thickness of the Masa, the tamales can take anywhere from one hour to ninety minutes to cook. To test doneness, take one of the tamales from the pot and try taking off the corn husk. If the husk removes easily, the tamales are done. If the Masa is still sticking to the husks, you need to cook them a little longer.
Tamales freeze very well. Make sure they are properly wrapped in plastic wrap or inside a plastic freezer bag.
Note: Most tamales have a meat filling, but they can also be made with cheese, Refried Beans and chilies. You can also use chicken or beef for the fillings, as well as leftover turkey.
*Tamales and tamales in steamer images (C) Pixeltoo (2005). Images released into the public domain by author and copyright holder; from Wikimedia Commons.
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