After a culinary road block, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that tamales will be my next endeavor. Being a Filipino raised literally next to the border, I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food. I decided to try my hand at tamales, which I’ve heard can be difficult. Now I know that I could have saved a lot of time by using pre-made masa and pre-cooked meat, but I’m the type of person that likes to try making things from scratch at least one time before cutting corners. I’m not hating though as I realized how tedious it is.
I had to do a lot of research on how tamales are made and what the best methods of making them were as well as what filling was best. I went with the most traditional filling I could think of: shredded, braised beef. This entire ordeal probably could have taken me 6 hours at most, but I stretched it out over 2 days since I had few days off in a row this week.
First off, take about half a package of dried corn husks and soak in hot water while you’re cooking and preparing everything else.
Beef for Tamales
- 1 1/2 pounds of beef (I used a chuck roast)
- Enough water to cover
- Dried Ancho, Guajillo, and California Chiles
- Ground cumin
- Ground oregano
- Bay leaf
- 4 cloves of garlic
- Whole, black peppercorns
- Kosher salt
- 2 T oil
- 2 T AP flour
First, we need to braise the beef. Season the beef liberally with ground cumin, oregano, and kosher salt. Place the seasoned meat inside a stock pot and cover with water. Add garlic cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Turn on high and allow to come to a boil. While that’s heating up, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off the stem end of the chiles and take out as many of the seeds as you can. While these peppers aren’t really spicy, they do provide a lot of flavor. Add chiles to the pot. When pot comes to a boil, turn the fire down to low and allow to simmer for about 3 1/2 hours.
If your electric/gas bill can’t take the heat (pun intended), you might want to consider a pressure cooker. It’ll get the same job done in 1 hour. Or you may want to invest in a crock pot/slow cooker. These devices usually use a lower wattage to cook items over a very long period of time (think ~8 hours). In any case, turn over the meat once in a while for even cooking (when not in pressure cooker). When meat literally falls apart, it’s done.
Take beef out and allow to rest. When well rested, take two forks and finely shred meat. Reserve cooking liquid.
We’re not done yet. It’s time to stew the shredded meat and make a nice sauce out of the cooking liquid.
Reconstitute an Ancho, California, and Guajillo chile in hot water. Once rehydrated, chop the chiles finely. In order to make the thick sauce, we need to start with a roux. Heat the oil and cook the flour in it, stirring until it lightly browns. Add reserved cooking liquid and stir until well dissolved. Add chopped chiles and shredded beef and allow it to simmer until cooking liquid has thickened and reduced. This should take around 30-45 minutes. Season with cumin and salt to taste.
Masa for Tamales
- 2 c masa harina (specifically for tamales – usually says “para hacer tamales”)
- 2/3 c lard or shortening
- 2 c warm water or broth
- 1 t baking powder
- 1/2 t salt*
Using an electric mixer or a pastry cutter, cut lard into masa harina and baking powder until it’s well blended and crumbly in texture. Mix in 2 c of your warmed liquid of choice. To add extra flavor, use some of the cooking liquid that you reserved from your meat. I just used a 14oz can of beef broth from the store and added water to make 2 c. Because the meat was already liberally seasoned, I omitted the salt. The finished masa should be like a really soft dough, almost like peanut butter.
Preparing/Cooking the Tamales
You soaked the corn husks in hot water before, right? Good. Take a rehydrated husk, one that’s about 6 inches wide and turn it so that the pointed end is towards you. Take about 2 heaping T of the masa and spread it in a 4-5 inch square at the top of the husk. Take about a tablespoon of your filling and line it down the middle of your masa square. Pick up both sides and roll towards each other so that the masa can adhere to itself. Then fold the sides over each other. Take the bottom end and fold that over. Tear off a nice strip of corn husk and use it to tie up the tamale and keep it nicely bundled. Line the bottom of your steamer or pot with rehydrated corn husks. Place finished tamale in pot standing up. Repeat with rest. When ready to steam, cover tamales with more corn husks so they don’t get waterlogged with condensation from the cover. Pour about 2 c of water into the pot and steam for about 1-1 1/2 hours, until masa is firm to the touch.