Sunday, January 9, 2011

Clase Para Hacer Tamales!!!!!!

I had been looking forward to this weekend for some time.  Early in December, our friend Cisco, who has been friends with Husband since they were 5 or 6, sent out an email that said (I'm paraphrasing, but it's pretty accurate), "Hey, my mom is coming to teach me how to make tamales - anyone else wanna join?"
Um, YES.  Yes, I do.
Like the penultimate student that I am, I showed up on time.  Early.  With a notepad to take copious notes.
I'm sorry - I can't share the recipe.  I was sworn to secrecy.
Actually, that's not true.  I'm just not sure that three pages of notes that is mostly no measuring and mentions of "to taste" will translate well.  The most important lesson I learned in the tamale-making process is that this, like many family recipes, is that it's all in the practicum, not the theory.  I can do my best, but really, if this is something that you are interested in adding to your repertoire, I recommend that you do what I did - get someone you know to tell and show you and make you get your hands messy.  And take notes; you will forget things, so take notes.
The tamales that we made are New Mexico style.  Of course, then, we started with the world-famous Hatch chiles.

When purchasing Hatch chiles, you can get mild, medium, or hot.  We used mild ; I think I'd like to try medium next time.  When broiled (and then boiled and then pureed), the chiles took on a sweet and fruity smell - delicious!

The hojas were already soaking when I got there; it's important, said Mama Connie, to buy the hojas that are in the plain plastic bags - no real label (of course, you will need to go to a Mexican market, but that's no problem, as El Rancho is just mere minutes away!

The hojas are soaked to get rid of any silk and dirt that may be left.

All right, here is where the tricky part came in - getting the right amount of masa and filling into the hojas.  We used a red pork butt for our filling (by "red," I mean the color of the chile - there is red chile, and there is green chile), but you can use darn near anything - chicken, beef, vegetables - there are even dessert tamales that are amazing.  The pork was so simple - it was thrown in the slow cooker overnight with just a touch of water (you could use broth, too, but this butt did NOT need it) and an onion that had been quartered.
Since the hojas can be various sizes, there isn't a "use a teaspoon of this or a tablespoon of that" here.  So, you have to get enough masa to coat the hoja, but not too much that you have barely any filling (no one eats the tamale for the masa), but also not too little so that the tamale doesn't "seal" when rolled.

Thanks to Vanna - I mean Dana, my hand model :)
Since we were all learners, we all did everything, from spooning the masa to rolling the tamale for steaming.  I think ideally it would be faster to have an assembly line approach - one person for the masa, one person for the filling (or one person per filling, if you have several), etc.  Several former students have told me that the assembly line process is the one that their moms, tias, and abuelitas follow, so I have to infer that it is tried and true.

We made about 7 dozen - not bad for 15 pounds of pork butt and 12 pounds of masa!  

Finally, it was time to steam.  We had a few pasta pots, but this can be done with just a few in a rice cooker, too.  It is this point at which a person can freeze the un-steamed tamales.  When it's time to cook them, they can be easily defrosted (in the fridge, people!) and then steamed.

OK, here is another difficult part for anyone who is theory-minded - there is no set time - you steam them until they are done.  You will KNOW that the tamale is done when the masa is firm - by firm I mean spongy, but it doesn't leave a dent when you press your finger into it (gently, of course - you are not searching for a pulse).  Mama Connie demonstrated how to test and showed us both done and un-done ones - you really can tell.

The tamales will steam for a while, and while we were forced to wait, we took some fresh tortillas and made burritos with the red pork that was left over.  That was pretty darn filling, but we managed to savor the fruits of our labors.

Steaming hot and muy delicioso!
Connie kept telling me to sprinkle a bit of cheese and a little more chile over it, but they were SO good "neat" that I didn't take the time.  My steps included only:
  1. Unwrap.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Repeat.
The best part of this class was that this was a take-home project I got to put IN the fridge instead of ON it!

A few things to add here:
  • There are three types of masa - we used the prepared, which made it ready to go one it was stirred.
  • We added some of the chile to the masa as well.  For dessert tamales, you could add cinnamon sugar, and there are even stores (like El Rancho) that sell dessert masa; it will have pineapple or other fruit already mixed in.
  • This is a messy process.  Cisco called me to tell me to bring an apron as well as the containers for leftovers.  If you like your kitchen pristine, don't make tamales.  But if you like tamales, suck it up, because it's worth it.
  • I mentioned that these are New Mexico style tamales.  There are also Sonoran style, which includes jalapeño strips and/or olives.  They are not bad, but this is the tamale I know and love.
I am pleased to note that I also obtained several chiles with which I can make my own chile (sauce), thanks to Cisco.  I'm hoping to make it soon... I'm already upset about the thought of eating that last delicious tamale!
My most sincere thanks to Cisco and his entire family for a great day; I truly appreciate the opportunity to share the day with everyone and to be honored with this recipe.  I hope that I can do them all proud.
That night we had pulled pork - same cut of meat, but Scott broke in his new smoker, and we had Carolina barbecue.  By the end of Saturday, I was absolutely satiated with porky goodness.

Today, then, was NO PORK SUNDAY.  I had corned beef hash at Chompie's for breakfast instead.  It was amazing, just like everything is at Chompie's, and of course far too much, so I wasn't able to clean my plate.  I think, though, if I had, I would still be hating myself.  I didn't even need to eat lunch - that's how full I was.  I was sad, though, that because we were there for breakfast, we didn't get the plate of freshly made pickles.
Aside from being a pork-free zone day, it is also the day before my mother-in-law's birthday. This year, she requested that we make dinner, since we always make "fabulous" meals (only when she comes over - when no one is around, I'll eat a spoonful of peanut butter and chocolate syrup and call it dinner).
I was asked to serve shrimp or crab as well as asparagus, so of course, I looked for a shrimp and asparagus recipe.  I found this hot garlic shrimp and asparagus recipe from Cooking Light, but I made a few modifications (I know you are surprised):
  • One reviewer said she used artichoke hearts instead of asparagus, so I decided to try that.  I would do this again, but next time use at least one jar of the marinated hearts and use the oil to cook everything in order to add a touch more depth.
  • I didn't measure the garlic, but I'm pretty sure I used more than the allotted amount.  Same for the red pepper flakes.
The asparagus was actually a side - it was roasted with a little olive oil and S&P, and then I drizzled a pecan brown butter over it right before serving.
The recipe also calls for a baguette, so I used the rest of our mini baguettes, which were perfect for sopping up the liquid in the bowls of shrimp.  They were a little too crusty for anything else at this point, again making me determine that I need to cut the dough into 4 instead of 6.

For dessert, I didn't have time to make a cake.  I was learning how to make tamales, and since I brought a few for an extra "birthday present," I was given a pass.
Instead, we stopped by The Coffee Shop for a sampling of their cupcakes.  If this name sounds familiar to you, it's because these ladies won an episode of Food Network's Cupcake Wars.  Right next door to Joe's Farm Grill (featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the same channel), this place is generally hopping, and their cupcakes are incredibly popular.
I was sad that there were no red velvets left, but I picked up a good amount of the offerings:
  • Chocolate with chocolate buttercream (vegan, according to the label)
  • Lemon
  • Cherry
  • Cookie dough
  • Bubble gum - I took the guy's advice on this one, and I thought HRH might like the bright color of it, so I got two so that she could have her own.
So, after dinner, we sliced them all up (except the bubble gum one that was given to HRH in its entirety) and had a little cupcake tasting.
Honestly, I wasn't super impressed.  With the exception of the chocolate, which tasted like chocolate, the overwhelming flavor of all of the cupcakes was almond - cherry and almond, lemon and almond, bubble gum and almond, etc.  I had noticed an almond flavor when I had a red velvet cupcake a few months ago, but I figured that was a one-time occasion.  However, I guess it wasn't - with all but one of five cupcakes having this almost overpowering - if not completely overpowering, in the case of the cookie dough -  the flavor for which the cupcake was named was more than disappointing.  Almond extract is quite strong, stronger than, say, vanilla extract, so it needs to be used with caution.  And, in my opinion, not everything should taste like almond.  I was really hoping for a good lemon cupcake, so the fact that the almond outshined the lemon in both the cake and the icing made me less likely to obtain a cupcake from The Coffee Shop again.
But they sure were pretty!

Before I sign off, I don't feel that I can properly post this entry without noting the utter sadness I felt nearly the moment I left the tamale class on Saturday; I headed to the store to pick up a few things for dinner, and I immediately heard on the radio of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, federal judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Green, Dorthy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, Gabe Zimmerman, and 12 others whose names have still been withheld.  I mourn with the families of Judge Roll and the others who lost their lives; violence is never the answer - while it may seem like a short-term solution, the consequences always - ALWAYS - outweigh any "benefit."  I pray for the recovery of Congresswoman Giffords and the others who remain in Tucson hospitals, and I am thankful for those two people - heroes - who tackled the alleged shooter before more could fall.  But we must remember to have compassion for everyone in this matter.  Everyone.  Now is not the time for judgement, and I am not in the place to judge.  My place is to have compassion for the victims AND for the alleged gunman.  Compassion will get us through this, and compassion will help prevent acts such as this in the future.

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