Sunday, May 26, 2013

Norma's Tamales

I'm definitely feeling a little sentimental as I write this post.  I've been teaching 2nd grade at Norman Rockwell Elementary for 11 years and I'm getting ready to say goodbye to a school, community, and co-workers that I love.  I spent the afternoon on Friday with a few of those co-workers making tamales and was reminded of how blessed I am to have worked with such wonderful and fun people over the years.   

Norma, a para-professional from my school, and I have been talking about doing this for YEARS.  The fact that I'm leaving the country forced us to find the time to make it happen.  Thank you Norma for sharing your talent and knowledge with me (and for letting me ask a million obnoxious questions) and for doing so much to plan for our special day of making tamales! 

Warning:  I've got a lot to say in this post, so brace yourself, because making tamales is not for the faint of heart.  It's a process and takes commitment.  Norma typically only makes them once a year, at Christmas, but made a special exception this year.  She did quite a few steps ahead so that we weren't at her house all night, and even then, we spent several hours learning about the process. 

Let me start with a few interesting things that I learned that you might also find helpful:
  • Most of the ingredients needed can be found at a regular old grocery store. 
  • One common pitfall when making tamales is using too much meat when rolling the tamales.  Norma said that when they're making tamales it's not uncommon to hear, "Too much meat!" being shouted around the table.  Don't make this mistake.
  • Bella, another one of my fantastic former co-workers, was there making tamales with us.  She grew up in Mexico until she was 14 and taught us that one of these things that we were making is called a tamal (no e on the end) and that tamales is plural.  So if I use the term tamal, it's not a typo. 
  • The two main components of a tamal are the filling and the masa, which means dough. 
  • There are many possibilities for fillings:  chicken and cheese, vegetarian, or shredded beef and pork.  We made shredded beef and pork.     

yields 10-12 dozen tamales
  • 4 pounds pork (rump or shoulder)
  • 5 pounds beef (rump or round roast)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic salt
  • 2 cans (1 pound 12 ounces) Las Palmas red chili sauce, medium (NOT enchilada sauce)
  • 2 cans (12 ounces) medium-sized black pitted olives
  • 1 can (4 ounces) can diced jalapenos
  • 1 can (7.75 ounces) El Pato sauce

Sprinkle each roast with Kosher salt, pepper, and garlic salt and place in separate Dutch ovens with 1/2 an onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic in each. 

Add enough water to cover the meat.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is falling about, about 2 hours.  If the water evaporates, add more to keep the meat covered. 

IMPORTANT:  Save the liquid broth that is left after cooking the beef.  This will be used when mixing the dough. 

Let meat cool enough to handle and shred. 

Combine pork and beef in one pot and add the rest of the ingredients:  red chili sauce, olives, jalapenos, and El Pato sauce.  Mix together and bring to a low boil. 

Simmer on low heat for about 1 hour. 

NOTE:  If after simmering there is a lot of liquid in the meat and it seems too soupy, remove some of the liquid.  You don't want the meat too runny.

The meat filling should end up about like this:

Sue being her helpful self and making sure that Norma is staying well-hydrated (by drinking her margarita) during the tamal making process: 

yields 10-12 dozen
  • 1 bag (4.4 pounds) Maseca tamal flour (look for a light beige colored bag)
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups shortening, room temperature
  • 2 quarts beef broth, reserved from cooking beef, warmed
  • 2 quarts store-bought beef broth, warmed
  • 1 can (7.75 ounces) El Pato salsa de chile fresco
  • 10-12 dozen hojas (corn husks)
Soak hojas (corn husks) for at least two days in warm water before rolling the tamales.  This makes the corn husk pliable and easier to work with.  Change the water in the morning and at night each day. 

In a very large pan (Norma suggests a turkey roasting pan) place the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and shortening.

Use a fork and a knife to cut the shortening into the flour mixture. 

Then, use a hand mixer to fully incorporate the shortening into the mixture.  Beat on low speed until well combined. 

Add the warm beef broth, starting with the broth reserved from the cooked meat, a few cups at a time and stir with a wooden spoon. 

Continue adding broth a few cups at a time until the mixture is thick and spongy.  Mix with your hands to get the masa completely mixed and to make sure you have the right texture.   

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Norma says getting the masa to the right consistency can be tricky, but is crucial to making successful tamales.  It should be spongy, about the consistency of thick oatmeal.  When you're mixing with your hands you'll feel the grittiness of the corn, but shouldn't feel any lumps of shortening.  The warm beef broth should help the shortening dissolve. If you use all 4 quarts of beef broth and the texture still isn't right, you can add water until the right consistency is reached.       

When the consistency seems right, add about 3/4 of the can of the salsa de chile fresco to add color and flavor to the masa.   

Now it's time to roll the tamales!!  This is the fun part. 


Take a corn husk and using the back of a spoon, spread a thin layer of masa on the wide end of the husk.  The masa should cover about half of the husk.  Make sure you spread the masa all the way to the end of the husk.  It will look about like this:


Place about 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture (plus an olive!) in the middle of the masa and then fold the sides together.  Remember, don't add too much meat!  I think I made this mistake more than once.   

Fold up the end to finish off the tamal.
When ready to eat your tamales, place a vegetable steamer in the bottom of a large pot with water in the bottom.  Place a ball of foil in the middle of the steamer basket.
Arrange the tamales, open end up, like a teepee around the foil ball and cover with a lid or foil. 
Steam for 1 hour over low heat.  Add water if it it's running low. 
Let the tamales rest for 20-30 minutes by sitting uncovered with the heat turned off.  This allows the dough to set up and harden slightly.
Once the tamales are steamed you can store them in the refrigerator and reheat for up to a week. 
To reheat, wrap the tamales in a damp paper towel, cover with plastic, and heat in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. 
To freeze tamales, place in a sealed plastic bag and freeze prior to steaming.
To defrost, let frozen tamales sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours and then steam according to directions above.
Thanks again Norma!  This was such a fun afternoon and will always be a special memory.

Source:  Norma Bellanca

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