Our Teeny-Tiny Tamalada
So a couple of days ago, we got to yearning for tamales like the ones Joan and I had on the way down to Los Angeles in May. You know, cheap produce-stand green chile and cheese tamales–heavy on the masa, light on the filling, hotter than hell from sitting under the heat lamp. The GOOD kind.
Around here, that’s not easy to find. So I said, “Let’s make them.” I had a vague idea it would be kind of a complicated deal, but you know, that’s what my interwebs were invented for. The rest of you may be using them to mess around with international finance, advance the singularity, and bring evildoers to justice–as far as I’m concerned, the online empire was invented by Al Gore to make it easier for me to find knitting patterns, recipes for tamales, and LOLCats. Oh, and Paperback Swap, in case I run out of Miss Silver mysteries. Thanks, Al!
But revenon a nos tamales . . . A quick troll of the web revealed that I was almost certainly embarking on a doomed quest. Not easy, the tamale. So I put the corn husks in to soak. Right away I noticed that there were a few bugs in my husks. Ugh. Change the water, fan out the husks, get rid of the buggy ones, and the corn silk, and the stained-looking husks.
Faint heart never won fair lady, right? Nothing venture, nothing win. Blood is thick, but water’s thin . . . sorry. Too much Gilbert and Sullivan as a child. Tamales await!
Then I put 4 cups of masa harina from the WinCo, 1 cup vegetable oil (we aren’t doing the lard thing right now), and some cayenne pepper in the KitchenAid and started beating. After about five minutes, I added 2 cups of chicken broth, slowly. Then I added a splash more, and kept beating. In about ten minutes, I had a fluffy, lovely-looking mixture.
While the masa was beating, I cut up a fist-sized ball of Oaxaca cheese (again from WinCo) into little batons and opened a can of green chiles.
Husk on palm, short end pointing toward me. Spoon of pliable, tender masa, lolloped onto the top half of the husk. Smoothed with back of spoon in one direction.
Cheese and chiles added. There’s no picture of the next stage, because there were no extra hands available to snap the delicate and satisfying process of wrapping the husk around the masa in such a way as to enclose completely the cheesy goodness, folding up the bottom of the husk, and securing it with a cunning little wrap belt made of shredded cornhusk. Man, it was fun! As much fun as the Play-Doh Fun Factory looked like it was on the commercials–only for reals.
The adorable little packages go into the steamer basket. In Mississippi, where there is an ancient tamale tradition (which is no doubt why Robert Johnson hymned them, red hot), they flavor the water in which they steam them–sounds like a good idea. On the other hand, In Mississippi, they also make Kool-Aid pickles.
We steamed in water. A couple of the tamales were too tall, and the lid of the pan didn’t fit. So we improvised with aluminum foil (which might as well be made of hand-hammered gold in the studio of Benvenuto Cellini, for the price I pay for it).
In about an hour, they were done. And we gorged ourselves, which is why there are no pictures of the final produce. Also, they were pretty unphotogenic: pale, puffy, steamy . . . and so, so delicious. Just like the fruit stand ones.
So I say, don’t be restrained by fear of the consequences. My tamales were no doubt a disgrace to the name. I recognize that others, who use high-quality fresh lard, who stew and shred and season pork roasts, who season knowingly with cumin and cinnamon and home-ground chiles, who make them tiny and symmetrical and perfectly wrapped, are turning up their noses at me right now. Go ahead, I say. Invite me to your house and demonstrate your tamale superiority. I will concede gracefully and with my mouth full. In the meantime, though, I like my tamales just fine.