Monday, March 5, 2012

Red Chile Tamales - Pork or Vegan

The first tamale I ever ate was in a little shop in a residential area of Minneapolis. You read that right, Minnesota was the place for the tasting of my first homemade tamale (they really can't come any other way). It was so delicious I went back for seconds and thirds, feeling a bit sheepish at my gluttony at the time. Now living in the City of Angels I understand that one tamale is never enough, and I am part of a long history of people who stuff themselves uncontrollably on tamales because they really are that good. If made properly. So when I set out to make my own tamales there was quite a bit of trepidation, anxiety and general fear, which is not something I usually feel in the kitchen.

Upon asking advice from friends at work, these were the warnings/suggestions I heard:

"Don't make them too greasy - greasy tamales are the worst!"

"And they can't be too dry, then you've wasted all that time on nothing."

"You have to make them with love, or people will taste it that you were unhappy when you were making them."

Can you blame me for feeling a tad intimidated? And when you look at the process, this is a multi-day, multi-hour labor of love. But let me tell you, they were so worth it!

Because they are labor intensive and take hours to make, tamales are usually reserved for special occasions, particularly Christmas, and usually involve the help of lots of people to speed the work along. The lunch room at work was overflowing with tamale abundance the week after Christmas, so I had some expertly made ones to whet my appetite.

When attempting a recipe that is really unfamiliar to you, doing your homework and researching recipes on the web can make a huge difference. While it takes extra time and effort to read over ingredients and suss out techniques, it made all the difference between success and a food experiment that ends up in the garbage.

While this recipe is called "Red Chile," it is very mild spice wise. While most non-latinos associate chiles with spiciness, many of them are very mild to the point of having no kick at all. Such was the case with these chiles. Anchos - smoked and dried Poblanos - are more smoky than spicy and the Guajillo chiles were even more mild. I used only ancho chiles for the pork but combined ancho and guajillos for the vegan - definitely my favorite of the two. Both the pork and vegan recipes turned out really well, and I'm looking forward to trying some other versions!

As for securing ingredients, yes, you will probably need to find a latino grocery store to get the chiles, masa and corn husks - most conventional supermarkets do not carry them. Lucky for you if they do!

These are the blog posts that give step by step photos so you can visit them if you want that visual aid as well.  Also, Son of the South (author of the step by step post) commands that you get a large capacity steamer; you do not have to do so. What you can use are: water canning pot with wire frame inverted (what I used) or a large pasta pot that has a removable strainer that does not touch the bottom (as seen here). Or steam them in batches in a metal steamer basket in a large pot. As Tim Gunn would say, Make It Work!

Red Chile Tamales - Pork or Vegan
(makes 40 tamales)

1 package dried corn husks

Pork Filling
2-3lbs pork shoulder or butt, bone in if possible
6 oz ancho and or guajillo chiles
2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if possible)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups pork stock (after cooking pork, see below)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (peanut, sunflower, safflower)
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt

Vegan Filling
1 lb firm tofu, frozen at least 12 hours, defrosted and grated on large holes
7 cups vegetable broth (or see below for Mexican Vegetable Broth)
6 oz ancho and or guajillo chiles
2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if possible)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (peanut, sunflower, safflower)
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 lb masa (I used Maseca)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (peanut, sunflower, safflower)
7 cups stock

Mexican Vegetable Broth
1 potato, quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed but not peeled
1 stalk celery, chopped
5 stalks cilantro, fresh
1 carrot, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons oregano (Mexican if possible)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
pinch dried thyme
pinch red pepper flakes
16 cups water

Bring all to boil, reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and discard solids. Refrigerate if not using immediately.

Day 1
Place pork in large stock pot with at least 4 inches of water to cover it and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 3-4 hours until meat is falling off bone. Strain and reserve broth, placing in glass jars if possible and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Shred pork by pressing on it with the back of a fork and flaking off in shreds. Refrigerate meat.

Day 2
2 hours before you plan to fill tamales, soak corn husks in warm water, weighing them down to ensure they are submerged.

Remove stock from refrigerator and skim off fat and discard. To make the sauce, slice open dried chiles, remove stem and deseed and devein. Dry roast in hot skillet for 30-60 seconds until aromatic, roasting in batches as needed. Place in heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water and allow to steep 10 minutes. Drain liquid and puree chiles with oregano, two cloves of garlic and 2 cups of pork stock. Pour sauce through sieve to remove any large particles, using a spoon to press through sauce. Discard solids. In large skillet, heat oil and saute whole clove of garlic until it just begins to brown and remove from oil. Add flour and cook until it begins to brown. Carefully add pureed chiles (it will spritz) and heat over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until sauce begins to lose its sharp raw flavor. Add meat or shredded tofu and salt and cook another 3-5 minutes until heated through. Turn off heat and reserve.

Heat stock over low heat to warm, about 110 degrees or baby bottle temp (a drop on your wrist is pleasantly warm), and set aside. Place masa in large bowl and mix in paprika, salt, cumin seeds, chili powder and garlic powder and mix well to ensure even distribution. Add oil and whisk in well with fork. Adding 1/2 cup at a time, add warm stock to masa mixture and whisk in with a fork. Finished masa should have consistency of thick peanut butter (see here for good photo), still stir-able but thick.

Drain corn husks and pat dry, selecting largest 40-50 for filling; set remainders aside.

To fill corn husks, place large husk in your non-dominant hand and using a spatula or your fingers, spread 1/2 inch layer of masa over the far left hand side of husk, about 4 inches wide and 6-7 inches long, shown here. I wanted to close both ends, so I left a 2 inch border at the bottom as well. Repeat this for as many husks as you have room on your counter or table. Then add 1-2 tablespoons of meat filling to the middle and roll the husks like you would a burrito, making sure that the filling fits in one roll of the husk (so that you don't tuck the husk into the filling itself). Complete this with all of the masa until the filling is gone. Tie with strips of husks ripped from the stiffer husks, as shown in the picture above.

If you have a large steamer, place tamales upright in the basket. Add water to the bottom of the pot just below the tamales; the water should not touch them. Drop a penny in the bottom so you can hear it rattle if the water gets low. If you don't have a large steamer you can use a canning pot by inverting the wire frame and place overlapping husks across the frame and climbing up the sides to create a flat surface to place tamales on. Place tamales in steamer upright and steam for 60-70 minutes or until tamales are firm to the touch. Remove with tongs carefully from the steamer and allow to rest 5 minutes. Eat immediately! These reheat in microwaves exceedingly well or re-steam at home. They also freeze well, but will loose a bit of their moisture, so eat up while they're fresh!


Recipes currently inspiring me:

Islim Kebabi at Kalofagas
Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus at ECurry!
Rye Lingonberry Porridge at Omenamintyu (Applemint)

1 comment:

Eve Fox said...

They look and sound amazing. I'm putting them on my list of things to try once my child is in school!