Bill made pulled pork not too long ago, and we had about 2 cups’ worth of the meat left in the freezer. (Odd as it may seem, there’s only so many pulled pork sandwiches we can eat over the course of a week.)
Anyway, this was the first week in May, and I decided to make tamales for Cinco de Mayo. I thought it would be a fun group project for the kids and me. Bill had to work late, and so I figured it would be a nice surprise for him, too.
And since I had some pulled pork in the freezer, why not use that for the filling?
Why not, indeed!
I had maybe two cups of pulled pork. Maybe three. To that I added chopped cilantro and whatever sauce Bill had made for the pork. Something barbecue. With some vinegar in it. I set that aside for the moment.
Now, to make tamales, you can either use corn husks (to wrap the dough and filling) or foil.
I did a bit of thinking last summer – I bought a lot of local corn, froze the kernels and dried the husks. I’ve had them in a bag in the pantry – not plastic – ever since. At last – time to use some of them. I put the kids to work sorting husks (I wanted the widest ones) and then soaking them in water to make them pliable.
Next, I had to make the dough. It’s pretty simple – first I melted some lard. To that I added a few cubes of frozen chicken stock. The recipe I used didn’t call for it, but I was going for more flavor.
Once the cubes of stock had melted, I scraped everything into the bowl of my stand mixer, and started beating.
I added water and chicken stock to some masa harina and some baking powder, and then added those to the whipped lard. Then, slowly, incorporate a cup of warm chicken stock into the batter. The mixture should be soft and light. Add a bit more chicken stock if you think it needs it.
Once everything is mixed together, take a little bit and put it in a cup of water.
It should float.
Okay, now that the corn husks have been soaking a while, they should be somewhat rehydrated and soft.
In the picture below, you can see a very dry husk on top and a rehydrated, soft, ready-to-make-tamales corn husk below it.
Time for the fun!
Well, maybe that depends on your definition of fun.
Anyway, you take some of the batter and place it on one of the corn husks, sort of toward one end.
By the way, when you’re working with the dough, it helps to run your hands under cold water now and then so the dough doesn’t stick to you.
Next, take a bit of the filling and place it down the center of the dough (or batter, depending on what book you read).
By the way, this is when you should have your kids help. One of you can put the dough on the husk, another one can put the filling in, and the third (if there are three) can fold it all up.
Before you fold the husk, you want to basically bury the filling in the dough. It’s easier (and less sticky) if you use the husk to manipulate the dough, as Alex is doing in these pictures. He got pretty adept at this part.
See (below) – the filling is surrounded by the dough now. Time to wrap the tamale with the husk.
Same as folding a burrito. First fold the bottom up…
Then fold the sides over…
And, finally, fold the top down.
Set the finished tamales on a plate and keep filling and folding until you’re finished with that step.
And, in the interest of equal air time, here’s Julia filling and folding a tamale as well.
She stuck with the project longer than Alex did. But that’s okay – some help is better than none!
Here’s the pile of completed tamales: Yes, there’s a little of the filling on the outsides of some of the husks. It can be a messy job.
Time for the steaming.
I used my big pasta pot. The cool thing about it is that it has two inserts – a deep one for spaghetti, and a shallow one that fits over the deep one for, say, vegetables. In this case, I used the two inserts so I could layer the tamales.
But before that, I filled the pot to just below the level of the deeper insert, put a lid on the pot, and brought the water to a boil.
See the steam?
Then I arranged about half of the tamales so they were “standing up” in the bottom of the deep insert. Not too crowded, but full enough so they wouldn’t tip over.
Then I did the same thing with the rest of the tamales in the top insert.
Then I put the lid on the pot and covered it all with foil and let the tamales steam for about an hour or so.
Now, something to keep in mind when you think the tamales are ready. If you unwrap one immediately, you might think you haven’t cooked it long enough because the batter will still be very soft.
So just shut off the heat and take the foil and the lid off and leave the tamales there while you set the table and get out the sauces and side dishes and whatever else you need for dinner.
After they’ve sit for a bit, it’ll be safe (and less frustrating) to unfold the husks.
Time to eat!
The tamales are soft, warm, comfort food.
And once you’ve eaten your fill, go ahead and take prettier pictures.
Or you could just keep eating.
See below for the recipe….
Pulled Pork Tamales
Makes 24-36 tamales, depending on the size of your corn husks
24-36 corn husks (you can use aluminum foil if you don’t have husks). If the husks are fresh, you’re good to go. If the husks are dried, you’ll need to rehydrate them
For the filling:
Roughly 2-3 cups leftover shredded pulled pork.
A quarter cup or so of the accompanying vinegar-based sauce, or barbecue sauce, if that’s what you used.
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
For the dough/batter:
About a cup and a quarter of lard, softened, and separated into one cup and one quarter cup portions
6 oz chicken stock
3 1/2 cups dried masa harina
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-2 teaspoons salt, depending on how salty your stock is
Approximately 12 ounces hot water
1 1/2 cups hot chicken broth
What to do:
Soak dried corn husks in water for at least fifteen minutes or until very pliable. Drain and set aside.
To make the filling:
Combine shredded pork, sauce, and cilantro in a bowl. Set aside.
To make the dough/batter:
Melt the 1/4 cup of lard with the 6 oz of chicken stock. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the rest of the lard until light and fluffy.
Add the hot water and the melted lard mixed with chicken stock to your dried masa harina and stir until combined.
Add this mixture to your whipped lard in three stages, and follow that up with at least a cup and up to a cup and a half of warm chicken stock.
The mixture should be light and fluffy, and a little dollop of it should float in a cup of water.
Place a corn husk on the work surface in front of you, the long way, and with the wider end closest to you.
Place about two tablespoons (depending on the size of the husk – you’ll have to figure this out as you go) of the dough toward the wider end of the husk and flatten it slightly.
Place a couple of teaspoons of the pork filling in the center of the dough, in a bit of a straight line going the same direction of the husk.
Using your fingers or the edges of the corn husk, wrap the dough around the filling so that it’s completely hidden inside.
Then fold up the corn husk, bottom first, then the sides, and the fold the top down over everything. If you wish, you can tie the tamales closed with some string or some strips of corn husk, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Place a steamer insert in a large pot and add water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Cover, and bring water to a boil.
Arrange tamales in the bottom of the steamer insert, so they’re standing up. Don’t crowd them – steam in two batches if necessary, or, if you have a smaller insert that fits on top of the deeper one, steam in two layers.
Place the lid on the pot and seal the edges with foil.
Steam the tamales over medium heat for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Shut off the heat, remove the foil and lid, and let them rest for about fifteen minutes so they firm up.
Serve with salsa or guacamole or whatever sounds good to you.
Don’t be greedy. Remember to share.