Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Kitchen, My World ~ Mexico

I was so excited when I found out Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies chose Mexico as our culinary adventure for My Kitchen, My World. I love Mexican food. It is my favorite food on the face of planet. I could eat it every single day. There is something so wonderful about the cuisine of Mexico. From the simple taco to the complexity and depth of a Oaxacan Molé.

I was torn on what to make. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest from Colorado I have not been able to find good, authentic Mexican food. It makes me so sad. I have been craving a bowl of green chile. All I want is a bowl of freakin' green chile!! I thought I could make green chile but seemed boring and too easy. Then I thought I would make my mole recipe that can take up to 2 days to complete. But decided I wanted to make something I had never made before. I decided on tamales.

Rick Bayless is a personal hero of mine. I would love to travel to all the small towns he goes to in Mexico. When Agnes is old enough I plan on taking her on a Mexican culinary adventure based on his and Diane Kennedy's writings. Anyhoo, his recipes have always worked perfectly for me so I thought I would use his Green Chile Chicken Tamale recipe.

I had never made tamales by myself. I've been in the same room as someone making tamales but I wasn't much help. I just wanted them to hurry up and finish so I could eat them. LOL I wanted to complete this task all by myself. I was surprised to learn that tamales are a time consuming task but an easy one. Let me tell you it is worth the time.

I made the batter and the filling the night before. I think this is absolutely necessary task. It helped make my tamale day go quickly.

Tamales de Pollo con Chile Verde - Green Chile Chicken Tamales ~ Rick Bayless

1 8-ounce package dried cornhusks
Preparing the cornhusks. Cover the husks with very hot water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged, and let stand for a couple of hours until the husks are pliable.
For forming the tamales, separate out 24 of the largest and most pliable husks—ones that are at least 6 inches across on the wider end and 6 or 7 inches long. If you can’t find enough good ones, overlap some of the large ones to give wide, sturdy surfaces to spread the batter on. Pat the chosen husks dry with a towel.

For the filling:

1 pound (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 4 to 6 serranos or 2 to 3 jalapeños), stemmed
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1½ tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 to 3½ cups chicken broth
4 cups (about 1 pound) coarsely shredded, cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted or rotisserie chicken
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Preparing the filling. On a baking sheet, roast the tomatillos about 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft (they’ll blacken in spots), about 5 minutes; flip them over and roast the other side. Cool and transfer to a food processor or blender, along with all the delicious juice that has run onto the baking sheet. Add the chiles and garlic and process to a smooth puree. Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium high. When quite hot, add the puree all at once and stir until noticeably thicker and darker, about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the broth and simmer over medium heat until thick enough to coat a spoon quite heavily, about 10 minutes. Taste and season highly with salt, usually about 2 teaspoons. Stir in the chicken and cilantro; cool completely.

For the batter:

10 ounces (1 1/3 cups) rich-tasting pork lard (or vegetable shortening if you wish), slightly softened but not at all runny
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2 pounds (4 cups) fresh coarse-ground corn masa for tamales OR 3 ½ cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2¼ cups hot water. (I used the dried masa)

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard or shortening with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the remaining broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a ½-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough of the remaining ½ cup of broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think it needs some. For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding a little more broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

Forming the tamales

Cut twenty-four 8- to 10-inch pieces of string or thin strips of cornhusks. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out one of your chosen cornhusks with the tapering end toward you. Spread about ¼ cup of the batter into about a 4-inch square, leaving at least a 1 ½-inch border on the side toward you and a ¾-inch border along the other sides (with large husks, the borders will be much bigger).

Spoon about 1 ½ tablespoons of the filling down the center of the batter.

Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together (this will cause the batter to surround the filling). If the uncovered borders of the two long sides you’re holding are narrow, tuck one side under the other; if wide, roll both sides in the same direction around the tamal. (If the husk is small, you may feel more comfortable wrapping the tamal in a second husk.) Finally, fold up the empty 1 ½-inch section of the husk (to form a tightly closed “bottom” leaving the top open), and secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strings or strips of husk around the tamal.

As they’re made, stand the tamales on their folded bottoms in the prepared steamer. Don’t tie the tamales too tightly or pack them too closely in the steamer. They need room to expand.

Steaming 24 husk-wrapped tamales can be done in batches in a collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan. To steam them all at once, you need something like the kettle-size tamal steamers used in Mexico or Asian stack steamers, or you can improvise by setting a wire rack on 4 coffee or custard cups in a large kettle. It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover cornhusks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between the husks so condensing steam can drain off.

Steaming and serving the tamales. When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of leftover cornhusks; if your husk-wrapped tamales don’t take up the entire steamer, fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil (to keep the tamales from falling over). Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 ¼ hours. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.

The Finished Tamales ~ Fresh out of the steamer ~

I served them with Crème Mexicana and a few bits of torn cilantro. They turned out so delicious. I can’t wait to make them again. I have so many different things I want to fill them with. I think my next tamales will definitely be a sweet version made with strawberries.



Dwiana P said...

I was thinking to make this kind of food too for MKMW. But then I changed my mind because it seems take little bit more time to make it.
You have so much patient I can tell and it turns out look very YUMMY!

Susie Homemaker said...

Holy Smokes!! What an amazing AMAZING MKMW meal! I knew I shouldn't have let you in this group. You make me look BAD.

Dale said...

Oh my God, that looks delicious. There's nothing so good as a good tamal.

Elra said...

Hey, I've also refer to his books sometimes. This is a lot of work and good job! Looks delice indeed!

Natashya said...

Believe it or not I have never eaten tamales before. I am not from another planet, just Canada. Mexican is not as prevelant here and I did have a tough time finding ingredients.
Rick Bayless is on my to-buy list for cookbooks, thanks for the recommendation.
I love your step-by-step pictorial, great work!

Michelle Dargen said...

Dwiana ~ you should give them a try. It would be a fun thing to do with a bunch of friends. You could have a tamale party.

Susie - Thank you so much. They look a lot fancier than they are. They are so, so easy to make. I can't believe I waited this long to make them.

Dale - Since we live near each other I will give you a batch the next time I make them. :) I am hoping to make a huge batch after I get back from Denver. I want to make a few different fillings.

Elra - I love his recipes. Easy to follow and very adaptable if you can't find certain ingredients.

Natashya - You must eat a tamale!! These were easy enough to make. Just make sure you have everything ready when you start. If you can't find ingredients you could always order from They have everything you could ever need. :)

jodycakes said...

These look fantastic Michelle - just like my Aunt Linda's who has been doing 'em for the last 30 years! Great job - can't wait to see the sweet ones!!

karen said...

wow, these look awesome. love the step by step pictures. i had never heard of rick bayless before but just happened to pick up his book at the library last week in order to study up on mexican cuisine. his authentic mexican book is pretty amazing. :)

Shandy said...

You are my hero! What a fabulous MKMW entry! These tamales are so much work and your tamales are perfect beyond words! =D

Bri said...

yummy yummy yummy. I really don't like Mexican food all that much, but I LOVE me some tamales. Those look heavenly, I wish I could just grab one from the screen.

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