Are you ready to make some tamales?
When I was a little girl, my dad worked as a liquor store clerk. As I grew older, sometimes I would go to work with him for awhile, and I found he had a steady stream of "friends" who came and went all day long. The job seemed more social than anything else, and my dad's customers loved chatting with him.
The liquor store was in a part of town that was fairly heavily Hispanic, and every year around Christmas, my dad's customers would bring him tamales--part of the traditional Mexican Christmas meal. He'd come home bearing brown paper bags of tamales--sometimes only two or three in a bag, and sometimes a half dozen. Around New Years, we'd have a tamale feast. There were all types of tamales made by several different people, but they were all good! I looked forward to tamales every year.
At some point, of course, I moved out of my parents' house, and within a few years, my dad retired, and there were no more tamales for us during the holiday season. Quite a few years ago, my crazy friend Lisa and I were talking about tamales, and we decided to try making some. It was a lot of fun, and the tamales were wonderful--better than I even remembered from childhood! It's been my tradition to make tamales around New Years ever since.
Before getting started making our tamales, I should tell you that tamale filling isn't an exact science. You'll need to experiment with different seasonings and spices until you get the filling you want. What I'll give you here are some general guidelines to start with; after that, your tamales will be YOURS, created by you!
I've used all kinds of meat for tamales and my favorite is pork. The "recipe" I'll give you here is for pork, but at the end, I'll tell you how to adjust the recipe to use beef or chicken/turkey instead. Let's get started!
For pork tamales, you'll need:
Pork, of course! Last year I used one pork roast and ended up with about 25 tamales. This year, I want to make more, so I bought two pork roasts. The specific cut isn't important--if you can find pork roast on sale, all the better! The measurements I'll give you are for one pork roast, approximately 5 pounds in weight with a bone--for boneless pork, you'll probably want one around 4 pounds.
Green chile enchilada sauce--a large can, or two to three smaller cans.
Chicken broth--again, a large can or two smaller cans. (You'll have a bit leftover from the filling but while you're buying broth, get an extra can or two to use for the masa dough later.)
Green chiles--two small cans of chopped green chiles.
Jalapeno peppers, diced--one small can, if you like spicy. These can be left out if you prefer less spice.
You'll also need flour (a few tablespoons), salt, pepper, crushed or chopped garlic, oregano, cumin, cayenne pepper and/or crushed red pepper if you like it spicy, and vegetable or other cooking oil.
MAKING THE FILLING
Cut your meat into large chunks, put into a large pot, and add water to cover. (Cut off large chunks of fat but don't worry about getting all of it--it will cook off or be removed later.)
Simmer the meat on the stove for several hours until the meat is tender and falling apart. Drain the liquid (reserve liquid for beef or chicken/turkey, but discard for pork) and allow the meat to cool so it can be handled.
Shred the meat and remove visible fat. Toss with about 4 tablespoons of flour and salt and pepper to taste.
In a large frying pan, heat a couple tablespoons of oil, and add meat. Cook to brown the meat a bit.
Once you have browned the meat, put it into a large pot. Add a large can of green chile sauce and about 1-1/2 cans of chicken broth. Add two cans of diced green chiles with liquid and jalapeno peppers to taste. Add seasonings and spices to taste. For these, you can start with a tablespoon or two of garlic, a tablespoon or two of oregano, a teaspoon of cumin, and a bit of cayenne and/or crushed red peppers. Because the filling will be cooked in a corn flour dough, you'll want the filling to be fairly well seasoned. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
Simmer this mixture on the stove for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring several times and tasting occasionally so you can add additional spices and/or liquid as needed. The mixture should have the consistency of a thick stew or soup.
Once the filling has simmered and the flavors are blended, refrigerate the filling until you are ready to make your tamales.
For beef filling, substitute red enchilada sauce for the green chile enchilada sauce. Use reserved beef broth from cooking the beef in place of the chicken broth. You will probably need 2 to 3 cups of broth. When I make beef tamales, I usually buy whatever beef roasts are on sale.
For chicken or turkey, you can use either red or green enchilada sauce. Use reserved cooking broth rather than canned chicken broth.
There are many other fillings you can use. A friend of mine makes tamales with cheese and green olives. The combination sounds odd, but they're pretty good! Once you've made tamales once with one of these meat fillings and are familiar with the process, experiment!