Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another Culinary Adventure

When I was young, we visited my Dad's uncle in Quartzite, AR. His Mexican American wife made us authentic tamales and I was hooked. I crave them. I order them any chance I get to eat at a restaurant that serves reasonably authentic Mexican cuisine. And I've often imagined whipping up a batch myself. But until last week, that experience stayed firmly in my dreams.

During 2008, I followed Stephnie O'Dea as she made and posted a new (mostly Gluten Free) crock pot recipe each day for a year. After seeing her post on crock pot tamales, I bought some corn husks. So that would be what, 14 months ago? Although Stephanie's post definitely removed the initial apprehension over trying something this big, I still had to build myself up to it. Just a little while...

To make the tamales, I consulted both the recipe at Stephanie's crock pot blog and the detailed descriptions at Son of the South.

Here's what I did.

On Monday, we had a turkey dinner.

On Wednesday, I cooked up about half of the left over turkey in my large crock pot. I would say it was about 3 quarts of turkey pieces. To this I added:
  • 4 tsp cumin
  • 2 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs salt (Or to taste. I started with 1 tbs and we kept adding, so I'm not sure of the final quantity.)
  • 4 dried chilis, broken into bits, seeds removed (be sure to wash well after)
  • 1 package frozen corn. I think it was about a quart.
I also added several ladles full of the broth from the turkey frame that was simmering along side. Again, this is just a guess thing. Maybe 3 cups by the time all was done.

I kept this cooking on low throughout the day and into Thursday, adding liquid as necessary and kept tasting and tweaking. It didn't really start tasting right until after Thursday afternoon. Until then, it just tasted like turkey with a SW flair. But eventually the flavors began to blend. If I had started from scratch as recommended on the Son of the South page, perhaps it would not have taken so long.

Since I'm fortunate enough (?) to live in an area with a very large walk-in freezer all winter, I set the crock pot in the garage overnight.

Bright and early Friday morning, anticipating a prompt start right after breakfast chores, I began soaking the corn husks. I did this in my old 3.5 qt crock pot insert. I poured it about 2/3 full of boiling water and about 1/3 tap water. Then I stuck in a bag of corn husks. They were a bit too tall for the crock, so I covered with foil to hold the steam in and then flipped them end to end throughout the morning. I added more hot water as needed.

As I began to assemble the ingredients I would need, I realized I was nearly out of Masa flour. Thank you, Joe, for running into Thief River. Luckily we needed a few other things, too. Otherwise the tamale meat would have gone into the real freezer until a later date.

On Friday afternoon, the kids and I cleaned up from lunch and began the tamale making process. I measured the Masa flour into a large bowl and then Sophie added the spices And mixed it together. I think Elsie added the lard and cut it in with her fingers.

I warmed up the broth (I had some beef broth in the fridge) which I poured in while Elsie stirred.

It got a little bit tough to mix in, so I finished that step for her.

Here follow the ingredients I used for the Masa dough:
  • About 2 lbs masa flour (I think we used 7.5 c)
  • 3 Tablespoons paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 3 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 Tablespoons garlic powder
Mix this together.
  • 2 c lard
Cut in with your fingers, working it in until crumbly.
  • 2 quarts warm broth
I just poured this in, but I think I will do it a cup at a time next time. It was somewhat cumbersome to mix properly. But once I was done, I brought the meat from the garage and was ready to roll.

Son of the South says the dough should resemble thick peanut butter. Stephanie describes a different test, but her dough is quite different, including baking powder for leavening.

We spread a think layer of dough on each corn husk.

This was by far the most tedious part. I envisioned all of us taking turns with the various tasks, but really the spreading was too difficult for most all of us. The kids all tried their hands at it, but soon tired of the putziness of this step. We spread them according to the Son of the South description, but with the added restriction of keeping them no longer than the crock pot is tall, since they would have to stand up straight during the cooking process.

After the dough was evenly spread we filled each with a dab of meat, lining it in a little heap along the center.

Then we carefully rolled the tamale, folded the end over and voi la. We propped the crock pot at an angle so we could lay the tamales in and end up with them all upright.

We filled both my big crock pot ( I think 5 qt) and my small one ( I think 3 qt).

I added just a thin layer of water to the bottom of the crockpot and cooked them on high for about 7 hours. After about 6, I propped the lids up with chopsticks. They were so steamy at the top that the dough at the open end was getting soggy.

The tamales at the edge were somewhat crunchy. The middle ones were great.

I plan try to find a pot in which I can steam them next time. (Perhaps a trip to Fargo ARC thrift store?)

I think I'll also make my meat from scratch just for the tamales. I will definitely make the filling ahead of time so the flavors can blend.

I think Ill also roll them with both ends closed. We'll see.

I had at least a third of the husks left and probably a third of the filling. But my crockpots were full and my dough was gone.

I served the finished product with taco toppings and my favorite black bean dish. The friends we invited over brought a green salad and it all made for excellent fare.

No comments: