That’s a Spicy Tamale!

You would think that in a city as culturally diverse as New York, it
would be a cinch to get good Mexican food. However, nothing could be
farther from the truth, which means that when I travel to California I
scarf down as many burritos, tacos, and enchiladas as possible.

A recommendation from a friend brought my husband and me to La Cabaña,
a fabulous Mexican restaurant in Venice Beach. We loved it so much that
we went there twice in as many days, and the instant we hit the tarmac
at JFK we were already craving carnitas again.

Which is why I spent last night up to my elbows in pulled pork and
moist masa dough, making tamales from scratch for the first time ever.
They were labour intensive, but no more so than other dishes I have
made in the past. And the smidgeon of extra work they required was well
worth it.

Sl701123_2

I chose to use this
recipe from Cooking Light magazine after discovering that traditional
recipes call for lard as the substrate for the dough. The only special
ingredients you need for tamales are the masa and the cornhusks—which I
had the foresight to stock up on at Albertsons in Santa Monica after
our second meal at La Cabaña. Just be sure to soak them in water before
use—some recipes say 2 hours, others say 24. I erred on the side of
caution and soaked them overnight.

Sl701037_2

For the pork filling, I improvised a little and did a spice rub a
few hours before I was ready to start cooking; I think I combined one
teaspoon each of salt, cumin, chile powder, oregano and coriander seed.
Rather than bake as the Cooking Light recipe instructs, I braised the
meat (put it in the pan, barely cover it with chicken broth and place
in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours) to ensure tenderness. It shredded up
beautifully and was extremely moist, with minimal effort required.

Sl701038_2

Sl701051

Assembling the tamales is straightforward. You mix the dough using
masa, water and salt (though another recipe I found after the fact
suggested using the liquid from braising the pork for extra flavour. I
am going to try this next time). You then spread it in an open husk—it
should have the consistency of thick peanut butter—and press a thin
line of pork along the edge. Roll it closed (you may need to smear a
little more dough in as you seal it to make sure the pork is completely
encased) and fold the thick end down to complete the tamale. Repeat as
many times as needed to use up the filling.

Sl701069

Sl701055

Sl701080

To cook the little guys, I just boiled a pot of water and put my
vegetable steamer basket on top. Pile the tamales in and steam,
covered, for about 15 minutes or until the husk easily pulls away and
the corn filling remains intact. I only had 5 tamales, so they weren’t
jammed in too tightly, but if you have a large number you might need to
do them in stages so that the heat can circulate evenly.

Sl701084

The result? The tamales tasted pretty darn good! Not as awesome as
La Cabaña’s, but theirs were probably made with lard and who can
compete with that? I made a pan reduction with the rest of the braising
liquid, drizzled it over the tamales and served them with guacamole and
sour cream oozing down the sides. The prep time involved means that these are not a weeknight meal, but I
will definitely make them again some Saturday when I feel like putting
in quality time in the kitchen.  And apparently they freeze well, so
perhaps a double recipe and a little Wednesday night tamale action are
in my near future. Olé!

Sl701124

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That’s a Spicy Tamale!

You would think that in a city as culturally diverse as New York, it
would be a cinch to get good Mexican food. However, nothing could be
farther from the truth, which means that when I travel to California I
scarf down as many burritos, tacos, and enchiladas as possible.

A recommendation from a friend brought my husband and me to La Cabaña,
a fabulous Mexican restaurant in Venice Beach. We loved it so much that
we went there twice in as many days, and the instant we hit the tarmac
at JFK we were already craving carnitas again.

Which is why I spent last night up to my elbows in pulled pork and
moist masa dough, making tamales from scratch for the first time ever.
They were labour intensive, but no more so than other dishes I have
made in the past. And the smidgeon of extra work they required was well
worth it.

Sl701123_2

I chose to use this
recipe from Cooking Light magazine after discovering that traditional
recipes call for lard as the substrate for the dough. The only special
ingredients you need for tamales are the masa and the cornhusks—which I
had the foresight to stock up on at Albertsons in Santa Monica after
our second meal at La Cabaña. Just be sure to soak them in water before
use—some recipes say 2 hours, others say 24. I erred on the side of
caution and soaked them overnight.

Sl701037_2

For the pork filling, I improvised a little and did a spice rub a
few hours before I was ready to start cooking; I think I combined one
teaspoon each of salt, cumin, chile powder, oregano and coriander seed.
Rather than bake as the Cooking Light recipe instructs, I braised the
meat (put it in the pan, barely cover it with chicken broth and place
in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours) to ensure tenderness. It shredded up
beautifully and was extremely moist, with minimal effort required.

Sl701038_2

Sl701051

Assembling the tamales is straightforward. You mix the dough using
masa, water and salt (though another recipe I found after the fact
suggested using the liquid from braising the pork for extra flavour. I
am going to try this next time). You then spread it in an open husk—it
should have the consistency of thick peanut butter—and press a thin
line of pork along the edge. Roll it closed (you may need to smear a
little more dough in as you seal it to make sure the pork is completely
encased) and fold the thick end down to complete the tamale. Repeat as
many times as needed to use up the filling.

Sl701069

Sl701055

Sl701080

To cook the little guys, I just boiled a pot of water and put my
vegetable steamer basket on top. Pile the tamales in and steam,
covered, for about 15 minutes or until the husk easily pulls away and
the corn filling remains intact. I only had 5 tamales, so they weren’t
jammed in too tightly, but if you have a large number you might need to
do them in stages so that the heat can circulate evenly.

Sl701084

The result? The tamales tasted pretty darn good! Not as awesome as
La Cabaña’s, but theirs were probably made with lard and who can
compete with that? I made a pan reduction with the rest of the braising
liquid, drizzled it over the tamales and served them with guacamole and
sour cream oozing down the sides. The prep time involved means that these are not a weeknight meal, but I
will definitely make them again some Saturday when I feel like putting
in quality time in the kitchen.  And apparently they freeze well, so
perhaps a double recipe and a little Wednesday night tamale action are
in my near future. Olé!

Sl701124

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