Compared to more popular Mexican fare such as burritos or nachos, tamales tend to take a backseat simply because they’re not as in vogue as they used to be. But, this doesn’t mean that they’re any less sumptuous. Like any Mexican food, eating tamales is best enjoyed in the company of family and friends. Of course, utensils are in order, but if you’re brave enough to eat them by hand, then you’re welcome to get down and dirty with this delectable Mexican meal.
Part of enjoying tamales is being able to make them. As they say, three’s the charm, which is probably why tamales are composed of three essential elements.
Tamales start with the masa, which is a key ingredient in any Mexican cooking. Made from ground corn turned into dough, the masa is treated with water and lime. To bind the masa and make sure it stays intact, it’s often moistened by fat such as vegetable shortening or lard before being poured into the tamale wrapper. Keep in mind that a special type of corn mash, not cornmeal, is used for the masa. Find a bag of masa that’s milled specifically for tamales. Ideally, a delicious, well-proportioned tamale should be composed of 60% masa.
The filling should comprise 40% of your tamales. During lean days, though, a tamale might only consist of the masa and no filling. However, a tamale with no filling is still considered a tamale. Traditionally, the filling for tamales is shredded chicken, beef, or pork marinated in salsa or mole. For those who are a little more conscious about their meat consumption, beans, cheese, and/or veggies can make for delicious fillings as well.
To complete your tamales, a soaked corn husk is wrapped tightly around the masa, keeping its contents intact. Thin corn husks work best for tamales as they can add a subtle flavor to the filling. They are also not as porous but allow steam to penetrate the skin when they’re being cooked. To get the best corn husks, purchase them dry in Latin American markets.
Now that you know what makes up a tasty troupe of tamales, you’re ready to prepare them. Here’s a guide that you can follow:
- Soften your dry corn husks by soaking them in hot water for about 30 minutes. Make sure the water is hot, but not boiling. Soaking your corn husks will make them more pliable and easier to wrap around the masa later. After soaking, spread the corn husks out on a tray.
- To make your masa, place the corn mash in a bowl. Add salt, paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder. Using your hands, mix the ingredients well together. Add oil, then broth.
- To know whether the masa is too thick or thin, give it a quick float test by dropping it into a glass of water. If it’s too thick, the masa will sink. You want the masa to be thin and light so add more broth. Test again until it floats. Then, spread the masa into the husk.
- If you’re using meat for the filling, drain the marinade, sautée, and shred it. Then, top the masa with it before adding cheese, salsa, or your choice of condiments.
- Finally, secure the tamales’ contents by wrapping the corn husk around it. Once done, steam your tamales on low for a minimum of two hours.
Eating tamales is somewhat of a ritualistic experience that adds to the enjoyment of this meal. To properly savor your tamales, begin by carefully opening the husk. Take care not to burn yourself if they come hot off the steamer. After discarding the wrapper, top the masa and fill with salsa (homemade if you’re feeling a little more creative) and cheese. Sour cream, guacamole, and chopped tomatoes are also good alternatives. Traditionally, tamales are served with rice and beans, alongside a cold bottle of beer.
Eating tamales can be a little messy so if you’re not so keen on spills, eat them with a fork. But if you don’t mind enjoying this as most people did in ancient times, squeeze the filling out like toothpaste from a tube.
Well, are you ready to try some tempting tamales?