Tamale Making Lessons Learned

A few years ago my DH and I spent some time with friends in Texas doing things we love—fishing, eating and visiting. When we took a break from fishing we decided to head over to Louisiana for a day. We made a stop in Zwolle, home of the Zwolle Tamala Fiesta. Although we missed the fiesta by a week or so, we picked up some tamales to try.

December in the Pacific Northwest where were living at the time was cold and dreary. The memories of the time spent in Texas and the Zwolle Tamales inspired us to try our hand at making our own tamales. We searched the internet for information on how to make tamales, gathered ingredients and invited a couple over to help out. One friend grew up in Mexico so we figured he might have a few tips. Turns out he liked to eat tamales more than make them but we all had fun and our first effort turned out better than we expected.

Fast forward a few years. We’ve moved to south Texas and tamales are a pretty big deal down here during the holidays. We decided to try it again. I went back to the original YouTube video I found for our first attempt. It is a good basic, step-by-step video for making tamales so check it out if you want to try this for yourself: 6 Easy Steps to Little Grandma’s Tamales (https://youtu.be/qSyW6JwwDYw). Virginia Lopez is the chef in the video and I used her recipe for Chile Ancho Salsa and for making the masa dough.

Chile Ancho Salsa

8 dried ancho chiles

2 cups water

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup tamale dough

1 cup pork broth (from pork butt that you cooked for tamales)

3/4 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp sale

1/4 cup whole tomato

1 tsp sugar (to taste)

Cut open the dried chiles and remove the seeds. Add them to 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and boil for about 10 minutes until soft. Add all the ingredients along with the softened peppers to a food processor or blender and puree. Add the sugar after tasting—it cuts the acidity and mellows out the salsa. This salsa is then mixed with the diced pork butt.

We wanted to make chicken tamales as well so I found this recipe from Rick Bayless for Green Chile Tamales: http://www.food.com/recipe/tamales-de-pollo-con-chile-verde-green-chile-chicken-tamales-273482

Here are a few things I learned that I didn’t find in the recipes or how-to videos.

  • One recipe of masa dough makes about a dozen tamales so you’ll need to make several batches depending on how many tamales you want
  • 8 or 9 chicken thighs cooked in the slow cooker, boned and mixed with the green chile sauce gave us 2-1/2 dozen tamales
  • About 2 pounds of pork butt mixed with the Chile Ancho Salsa made around 3 dozen tamales
  • 2 people (fortified with tequila sunrises) can make 5-1/2 dozen tamales in about 3 hours plus an hour for steaming. That includes making the masa dough and the salsas but we cooked the meat the day before.
  • Next year, we’ll invite a few more helpers


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