Mexican Restaurants – Whether it’s the strength of the margaritas, the freshness of their chips, the scoville scale of their salsa, or just how “authentic” it all is; everyone has their own way of judging a good one.
Me? I look at two things.
1). Chili Rellenos : Is it a charred poblano pepper? Does it have a light egg batter? And just exactly what have they stuffed it with?
2). Tamales : This is a harder judging for me. Because I like them a lot of different ways. I’ve had them in banana leaves where the “dough” is a kind of yucca / masa mash. I’ve had them in Mexico where there was a little bean or olive surprise buried in the middle. There has been the random bad one where the dough was fluffy … like a biscuit – or dry as a powder keg and dense like hard tack. Suffice it to say, tamales are like that proverbial box of chocolates.. you never know what you’re going to get until you bite into it.
I too have been guilty of making them every way possible (some successful / some, not so much) – reference the Coffee Filter Tamales, or that miserable day long ordeal to make them the Hard Way… looking for the elusive Mr. Goodbar of tamales.
… and I think I may have actually found it.
First, let’s look at the dough. Tamale dough is masa flour / grease / baking powder and seasoning. Since the grain used is dent corn that has been lime treated, and finely ground, I wondered if I could save a ton of steps and use something that I already had on hand…. Hominy.
To make your Masa, you’ll need:
1 Can Yellow Hominy – Drained with liquid reserved
1/2 Teaspoon Chili Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Rounded Tablespoon Cold Lard ( feel free to use whatever shortening you like… even chilled coconut oil. You already know my issues with a great many oils, so I keep it simple and stick with lard)
3 Tablespoons Plain Cornmeal (I’ve actually used a stone ground meal made locally in Dawsonville, GA. The fresher the meal, the more corn flavor it’s going to have)
The Retained Hominy Liquid
Place all the dry ingredients in the hopper and pulse until the mix looks like thick grits. Scrape down the sides and gradually add the liquid and pulse the blades until the dough is light and fluffy – like this:
Cover and set aside until you’re ready with the filling.
Now, let’s make those tamales.
Plate Fodder Hominy Tamales
Makes 6 Dinner-Sized Tamales
1 Batch Hominy Masa (see above)
For the Filling:
1 Large Ear Corn – In Husk
1/2 Large Onion – Finely Diced
1/2 Sweet Red Pepper – Finely Diced. (okay, since I primarily cook for someone that can’t do heat – it’s always going to be a mild pepper here at Turtle Creek. But – feel free to use whatever chili that gets your motor running. A Poblano or Banana both would be nice choices, with a fair amount of heat.)
1 Tablespoon Chopped Coriander
1 Tablespoon Chopped Parsley
Salt and Pepper
Dash Ground Cumin
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Tools of the Trade:
Medium Saute Pan
Large, Deep Pot with Lid
Water (about 4 Inches in the bottom of the Pot)
Steamer Basket or Rack
Glassine Paper / or Wax Paper
Strips of Corn Husk
12 Full Husk Leaves
Shuck and silk the corn, retaining the husks. Separate one of the husks into thin strips. Meanwhile, heat the saute pan and oil over medium heat. Cut the kernels off the cob and add the corn, diced onion and peppers to the pan. Add the seasoning and saute until the onions are translucent.
Tear off a 12″ x 12″ square of paper and place 2 shucks overlapping in the center. Take 2 Tablespoons of the masa and spread a thick layer in the center of the shucks. Place a heaping tablespoon of the vegetable mixture in the center of the masa – like the photo above.
Bring up the sides of the paper and roll down tightly to seal. Twist the ends and tie off with the strips of husk. Bring the pot of water to a boil and add 3 teaspoons of salt to the water. Place the steamer rack and stack the tamales on the rack; alternating direction with each layer. (Remember to leave plenty of room between each packet so the steam can move through your tamales easily.) Cover and steam for 50 minutes.
Carefully remove the tamales and allow them to cool slightly before removing the paper (leave the husks on for serving). Top with a little Extra Sharp White Cheddar or Habanero Jack Cheese and rewarm just before serving.