Along the Natchez Trace

Friday, January 8, 2016

Tamales... My way

The best tamales I've ever eaten are from El Modelo, a take-out restaurant in Albuquerque, NM.  They are absolutely delicious, and the only thing I like better are their chile rellenos.

I don't even pretend to make these dishes anywhere close to the tastiness they do, but I do occasionally try my hand at making tamales.  Since all the ingredients are so readily available here in Lo de Marcos, I did just that yesterday.

Actually, I bought a kilo of pork the day before...  cooked it with garlic, onions, jalepenos, and some other kinds of peppers until it could easily be shredded.  That took several hours so it went in the fridge overnight...  

I'd bought several kinds of dried chiles and a bag of corn husks the other day.  Several years ago, Leroy, a Fish & Wildlife employee at the Bosque del Apache NWR in NM taught me how to prepare those dried chiles.  However, my kitchen is very limited here so I had to improvise here and there throughout my preparation yesterday.

I did simmer the chiles to soften them...  but I don't have a food mill, so it took me a long time to separate the skins and seeds from the good stuff.  After I got it fairly well separated, I reduced the liquid and added it to the pork that I'd shredded before starting the chiles.

  I think there are a couple of brands of masa available, but this is a good one.  It's not corn meal, but a corn flour that is ready to add liquid to and use.  (I liken it to Bisquik...  kind of a ready to use product).  

I'd saved the liquid from the pork to work the masa to the right consistency to hold together.  Here's my assembly line...  the masa and the pork...

Oh yes...  the corn husks.  I have only 1 big kettle, so as soon as I finished the chiles, I filled the kettle with more water and when hot, put in enough corn husks for the couple dozen tamales I planned to make.  All you're doing is softening them up to make them pliable enough to roll and hold their shape.

Here we go...  a flexible corn husk...  ready to fill...

A dollop of masa...  pressed down flat.  I can never get mine thin enough...  but I keep trying...

And then...  a scoop of meat filling
The onions, garlic and chiles, along with the liquid chile stuff have already been added to the meat, so it kind of holds together like a loose patty....

Roll it up, tuck in the ends...  and there you have it!
Ideally, I guess you tie it together with string...  or if you're good, you can use a strip of corn husk instead...  this keeps it from unrolling.  I didn't have any string, so I just placed them "seam" side down and hoped for the best.

Back to my only big kettle...
When I got done making the tamales, I put a few inches of water in the kettle.  Having a steamer would be ideal, but I don't...  so I bought some kind of wire basket (probably meant to hold fruit) that would fit inside the kettle...  then used a tin foil pie plate to set on top.  Bill punched holes in the pie plate so that steam could come up, but condensation could escape back into the water.

I think I had 8 or 10 tamales on this plate, but the more you have, the longer they will take to get done.

You don't want the water to be too high...  no water should touch the pie plate...  you just want to steam the tamales.

I had too many piled up so it took well over an hour for the top ones to get done...
These are ready to peel out of the corn husks and enjoy!

While they are pretty tasty eaten by themselves, we added some refried beans and some Mexican cheese...  and some salsa....  and had a good dinner.

I know I've modified things to fit what we have to work with here, and I have no idea how "authentic" my way of making tamales really is.  All I know is...  they taste okay to us.  And, y'all are welcome to come on over and try them for yourself!

That's All For Today!


  1. They look like fun to make. We trede tamales one and did not care for them. Maybe give them a shot again sometime.

  2. You are more adventurous than me--I like tamales but not enough for that much work!

  3. It seems like you walk all morning and cook all afternoon. Sounds good.

  4. Very interesting. I've never eaten a tamale. Being a non-spicy eater, I'm not sure how I'd like all the chiles.

  5. They look good to me. I've made them a few times, but not with corn husks to steam inside. Here, where I live, there is a high Mexican population so now corn husks are available at every store. Maybe tamales tonight. You are inspiring me.

  6. Love tamales, they are the best when traveling. Easy to heat up on travel days. Did you mix up the masa without adding lard? I'm trying to stay away from a lot of fatty foods.

  7. As always you're ingenious at improvising. Greg and I would have spent the time walking the streets looking for a street vendor who sells them! We'll be there soon and will sample your cooking any time you offer :)

  8. Looks great and I bet it tastes great, too. Salsa, I just love salsa and eat it on just about anything.

  9. Tamales are one of my husband's favorites but I have never had the ambition to try making them at home. Yours look delicious

  10. Those look great. We have a family member that makes "homemade" tamales and they are so good...

  11. we made tamales once... lots of work... could only get the masa thin when we used lots of manteca (lard)

  12. Obviously, I have never in my life cooked a tamale. But I've also never been a huge fun. Although I love the ingredients, simply unfolding the corn husk to eat the filling is too much like cooking for me.

  13. I appreciate all the photos of what things will look like. I am definitely going to try to make these.