¡Tamales, Parte Tres!

by Megg

Here we are: the third and final installment of my tamales posts! I know I’m excited… mostly because it’s taken me forever to write all this. But trust me, it’s worth it. Homemade tamales are oh so tasty!
If you missed it, the first part had info on getting started, making the dough, and how to make a basic cheese and chile filling. Part two had recipes for a green chile chicken filling and a red chile pork filling. Now all that’s left is to wrap them up, steam ‘em, and eat em’!

Once again, I want to point out that since this was my first time making tamales, I was getting all my wisdom from Mexico One Plate At A Time by Rick Bayless.
Prepping the Steamer
First you want to prepare that tamale steamer I talked about in the first post. Pour about an inch of water into the steamer and put the steamer tray into place (it should sit very low in the pot, which is why there is so little water). Bring the water to a boil. Line the tray with extra husks or leaves to protect the tamales from direct steam, but make sure to leave some gaps between husks so that everything drains properly.
Assembling the Tamales
In my opinion, this is the fun part! A friend and I set up a station for our tamale making and it all went pretty quickly from there. Here’s what you should have:
-Pieces of string (enough for the amount of tamales you’re making), cut to about 8″ for corn husk tamales or 12″ for banana leaf tamales
-Tamal dough
-All of your fillings of choice
-Prepared husks or leaves
-Wax paper (to protect the work surface if needed)
When you’re ready to get started, lay out a piece of string horizontally in front of you and put the husk or leaf on top (if using banana leaves, the shiny side should be facing up). Take some dough (1/4 cup for corn husks, 1/3 cup for banana leaves) and spread it into an even rectangle on the husk/leaf, leaving a border so you can still fold up the tamal. If using corn husks, you should have about 1 1/2″ on the bottom and 3/4″ on the top. Spoon 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of filling onto the center of your dough for husks, or a bit to the left on your dough rectangle for the banana leaves. If you’re doing the cheese/poblano filling, sprinkle some cheese on the center, and then make a line of 2-4 poblano strips vertically over the cheese.
For folding up the corn husk tamales, first take the two sides and bring them together. Smaller husks can be wrapped with the edges overlapping slightly; if you have excess, fold both ends together in the same direction. If you feel that the husk is too small all together, or if it begins to tear, just reinforce it with an additional husk. Next, take the bottom end (that, again, should be bigger than the top border) and fold it up, creasing at where the dough begins. The top remains open. Tie the string so that it holds all of your folds in place securely, yet isn’t too tight (the tamales will expand during the steaming process, and a string that’s too tight will act like a corset on the poor little tamal!) As you finish each one, you can put them in the prepared steamer, standing vertically with the open side up.
For folding the banana leaf tamales, first take the right side and fold it over to the left, creasing at where the filling begins. This means the part you are folding should have some dough on it, so when you fold it over you are basically sandwiching the filling between the dough. Fold the left side (which should not have dough on it) over the folded right side. Then fold over the top and bottom so you have a square with no open ends. Tie up the string (again, making sure it’s secure but not so tight that the tamal can’t expand) and place in the steamer, sitting up vertically.
Steaming the Tamales
Now all the tamales should be in the steamer, standing up and ready to go. The tamales should fill the steamer but should still have breathing room because, again, they’ll expand. If you don’t have enough to fill up the steamer, make some small, loose balls of aluminum foil and place them in the gaps so the tamales won’t tumble over. Cover the tamales with more leftover husks and/or leaves, put the lid on, and you’re set. Allow the tamales to steam over a continuous medium heat for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Important: Make sure that the water is boiling at all times so the steam stays steady. Since you’ve got a giant pot with tons of tamales covering your view of the water, you can just lift the pot gently and give it a little shake to see if you can feel or hear the water in there. If all of the water boils away, you’re going to end up with a ruined pot, a lot of ruined tamales, and frankly, a ruined day. If you do get low on water, pour boiling water into the pot to keep everything going. Personally, we never ran out of water, but definitely made sure you keep an eye on it.
After an hour and fifteen minutes, remove a tamal and try to unfold it. If the husk comes away from the dough easily, then the tamales are done! If you’re not sure, leave them in there for a bit more time. When they’re done, remove the pot from the heat and allow them to cool for a few minutes so they firm up. Then you’re ready to eat them!
I don’t feel like I should have to say this, but I have indeed encountered a few people who didn’t realize this, so here goes: always remove the husk/leaf before you eat the tamal. You only eat the dough and filling part.  Again, that seems pretty obvious to me, but just had to get that out there just in case…

Tamales go great with a little sour cream or crema Mexicana, some salsa, and homemade guacamole! They’ll last in the fridge for a few days, and after that you’re going to want to freeze the leftovers.. that is, if you haven’t eaten them all already!

We made the cheese tamales and the chicken tamales in corn husks and the pork ones in banana leaves. I really liked the flavor the banana leaves gave the pork tamales, especially because I’d never experienced it before. I think overall though, I actually liked the chicken filling the best. If you try any of these fillings, let me know what your thoughts are!
And there you have it, my tamale series has come to an end. If you make tamales, definitely have a friend or two help out.. it’s a lot of fun! It would even be great for a party!
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07274643327433693042 tofugirl

    A tamale making party sounds like it would be a great idea! I really enjoyed your series, I've never made them myself and I think I'm going to have to try! (Once it cools off, of course.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17219875290791522802 Megg

    You should try one! Of course I'VE never had one.. just a tamale-makin' duo. Thanks for your comment!

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