Live Blogging: Tamalada

Last night I went out and bought all the things I need to make tamales. Carlos has gone to work, and the niños to school. The house is quiet and empty, unlike a traditional tamalada.

I mentioned in my last post, Galletada, how I don’t have family to make tamales with. Some of you recommended inviting friends, regardless of whether they’re Latina or not. I think that idea is bien chévere. The only problem? My friends are spread across the world.

So, here is what I’m going to do – I’m going to “live blog” my tamal making with you! You’re all invited to my tamalada. Visit throughout the day as I update. Chat with me here in comments, or over on Twitter!

8:20 am – I boiled the chicken last night so it would be ready. I’m going to go shred that first.

9:35 am – The chicken is nicely shredded. Unlike Suegra, I didn’t include bones in my mixture. Chomping into a hueso while trying to eat a tamal, I find very disconcerting.

What do you think of my apron? Do I look like I’m ready to make tamales or sell them at the mercado? ;)

10:36 am – The filling mixture is almost finished. I’m tasting it with Hoja Santa to see if I like it. I heard that Hoja Santa is used for tamales in regions of México and that it gives a distinct flavor. It smells like root beer or licorice. Qué rico! …

While researching the herb, I found out some interesting things. First, the FDA isn’t a fan of Hoja Santa because it was found to be carcinogenic in animals. Carlos thinks I’m loca for trying it just based on that, but cigarettes are carcinogenic to HUMANS and yet the FDA doesn’t have a problem with them, so I put my faith in the Mexican people on this one. They’ve been using this herb since the times of the Mayans and Aztecs, and they have less incidence of cancer than those of us in the U.S.

The story behind its name – Hoja Santa, (Holy Leaf), is that the Virgin Mary used to dry the diapers of baby Jesus on the wide leaves of the Hoja Santa plant. (Providing a place for them to dry, as well as leaving a nice scent.) … Qué cute, right?

Okay – going to upload a video for those who are asking!

12:36 pm – Getting tired and I haven’t even assembled the things! … I finished the filling quite awhile ago, (video below!), and just now I finished making the masa. This is the first year I used manteca (lard) in the masa. The idea gave me the heebie jeebies but I tried tamales last year which I liked, which had algocito that my tamales didn’t have – and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Well, it was manteca, of course. I had Carlos call his co-worker, Armando, last night – to ask what his wife put in her tamales. Te juro, I tasted queso in the masa, but they insist that it’s just manteca.

So, anyway, I made the masa with manteca and the smell made me a little queasy. The masa is resting and so am I for a few minutes, but I really need to get a move on. The day is half over!

Here is the video of me making the filling earlier:

2:26 pm – All the tamales have been made and are on the stove. Very tired and ate so much of the filling que no tengo ganas de comer tamales. Bleh. Ojalá, Carlos and the boys will like them.

I’ve posted my recipe in comments before, but I will post my recipe here according to how I made them this year.

Latina-ish Tamales Recipe

What you need:

Dry corn husks
Aluminum foil
MASECA (instant corn masa flour for tortillas)
1 whole chicken – boiled, (remove skin and bones and shred into small pieces)
Chicken broth – (use the broth from the chicken you cooked. Seems to be more flavorful than canned/boxed broth.)
1 can chick peas/garbanzo beans
1 medium onion (minced if you have the patience, otherwise, chopped is okay)
3 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
2 cans of uncut green beans
2 cans of diced potatoes
1 can of chiles in adobo sauce
achiote molido (annatto powder)
achiote entero (whole annatto)
hoja santa
1 cup of lard
1/2 cup cooking oil
cooking oil

1. The filling: In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil. Add 1 tablespoon of achiote entero. Cook briefly until oil turns orange-red. Remove from heat. Remove the achiote with a spoon and discard so that all that is left in the pan is the oil. If you don’t have achiote entero, just heat some regular oil.

2. Put the pan back on the medium heat, saute onion and garlic until tender. Remove from heat. Add the drained cans of potatoes, chick peas and green beans as well as the chicken. Combine. Add salt, adobo sauce from the can of “chiles en adobo”, and hoja santa to taste.

3. For the masa, I used this recipe. Only changes – I added a tablespoon of achiote molido along with the salt to the dry MASECA. Then, after completing the recipe, I added a 1/2 cup of cooking oil.

4. Fill a big bowl with hot water in your sink. Submerge the corn husks in the water to soften.

5. Rip off 40 squares of aluminum foil, (about 1 foot by 1 foot each.) … This will be used to secure the tamales while cooking if you have trouble folding them securely closed. (Some people tie them closed. Look up methods online, but I’m telling you, foil makes it way easier.)

6. If you don’t have a large steamer pot, you will need to loosely crumple foil balls enough to cover the bottom of your largest pot with a tight fitting lid, (or an upside down metal pie plate works.) Once the bottom of the pot is covered in foil balls, fill it with water – BUT the water should not be higher than the foil balls. The foil balls keep the water off the tamales since the tamales are not boiled – they are steamed. If you have a steamer pot and know how to use it, all the better!

7. Now for assembly. Take a corn husk from the water, making sure it isn’t too small or ripped, and shake it dry a bit. Put it on a square of foil. Spread a big spoonful of masa (dough), onto the husk in the middle, spreading it out in a sort of rectangle shape, but don’t go too close to the edges. (There are tamal tutorials online, so look around for them. Video would be the best way to learn this.)

On top of the masa, place a spoonful of the chicken mixture.

Now fold the corn husk closed, (again, hard to explain, so look online for a tutorial if you don’t know how.) … Then I take the extra step of enclosing each one in foil so they don’t open up.

Repeat this until you run out of either corn husks, masa, mixture, or energy — This made about 40 tamales when I ran out of masa, but I had enough filling mixture for at least 2 dozen more.

Stack them all in your steamer pot on medium to low heat with the lid closed. They take between one and two hours to cook. Check once in awhile, (though not too often as you’ll lose your steam), to make sure there’s enough water in there – if not, add a little.

To be sure the tamal is done – best to take one out, unwrap the foil, and let it cool for a little bit to give the masa a chance to become the right texture. Then you can unwrap the corn husk and check to see if the masa is properly cooked, (it shouldn’t be too mushy – it should be firm…difficult to explain exactly. I know you’ve eaten tamales so just judge the doneness based on personal experience of what it should look/feel/taste like when cooked.)

5:46 pm – Tamales were taken out of the pots over an hour ago and have cooled. Carlos loves how they turned out. Now for a nap. Thanks to all of you who chatted with me here in comments and on Twitter! This one is for you…

43 thoughts on “Live Blogging: Tamalada

    • Yes, I know that feeling. I will probably feel that way in a couple days, after we’ve eaten tamales for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

      As for baking, I did that last week, but I think my love of cookies is stronger than my exhaustion. I may have to make more.

      • Me and six of my friends rolled tamales yesterday from noon til almost 4 am. And we all ate so much filling as we went that no one wanted a tamal when they were finished cooking!
        Today we have moved on to other cooking en preparacion for Nochebuena. Right now I envy you, because while your house smells like tamales, mine smells like bacalao soaking in milk to make bacalaitos. They’re delicious but a mi, huele tan malo.

      • @ Graciela – Wow! 4 am! … I have also eaten too much filling and then not wanted tamales. LOL. Trying to keep my hands out of it this time.

        Never had bacalaitos — I bet they taste good, but fried fish definitely doesn’t warm a house the way tamales do. LOL.

    • Tamales really are an all day, (or several day event!) – particularly when doing it on your own. I boiled the chicken the day before – that was about 2 hours. And then the entire process the next day from start to finish took another seven or eight hours. So that’s about 10 hours, (though not all of it on your feet, since several of the hours are just waiting for them to cook, but you have to babysit them and can’t do much of anything else or the pot will boil dry and scorch.)

      Anyway – my 3 guys loved them. Carlos liked the hoja santa. He can’t pick the flavor out specifically the way I can, but he says these are the best ones I’ve made so far and that was the main difference, (besides extra adobo sauce and putting manteca in the masa.)

      I’m so tired but you made me hungry for tamales de elote since you mentioned them on Twitter. I will probably make corn cake to satisfy the craving. Much easier. LOL.

  1. WOW, your tamale look so tasty. Next time you make them (put that shoe down that you are trying to hit me with) can you make just one with Chicken, Potatoe, Carrot, no chili and make sure that you use lard:). If I lived closer I would have came to your house and help you make them. Luckly, a friend of mine just came in from Mexico on a 8:00pm plane and I ask her to make tamales, of course she agreed, so i will get to eat some and plenty of Pozole. Yummy.

  2. Yum tamales!!! I really want some for christmas but we’re spending nochebuena at my suegra’s house and since her husband is guatemalan, she always makes guatemalan tamales. They’re ok, but le pone el pollo con huesos y todo and I don’t like that like you said!! I told my mom to make some since we’re spending Christmas with her.. I hope she does!

    Un buen tamal picosito y un vaso de ponche calientito es todo lo que necesito!

  3. se ven bien ricos…. siempre digo ke los voi a haceer and um no … i am terrified of tamale making hahahahaha bt i love them…. one thing that made me lol..was ur reason for buying the salsa…jajajajaj thats something stupid i would of done too! maybe next year i will try and have a tamalada with my mom

      • It’s just derived/evolved from watching Suegra make tamales and tasting the tamales other people have made over the years. When I taste or see an ingredient I like, I experiment and change mine up.

        People are afraid to make tamales because they think it’s an exact science and they won’t do it “right”. Tamales ARE a lot of work, but as far as the filling goes, I’ve found them to be very forgiving. I’ve never made a batch of “bad tamales” – some are just better than others, but they’re always good :)

  4. Thank you for your blog! It’s great! Yo soy “casi-Mexicano”, y mis amigos Mexicanos dicen que soy “mas Mexicano que un chile,” so I know exactly what you mean by “latinaish.” I love making tamales, and make them all the time. I even bought my own tamalera.

    I live in Montgomery Village, MD, and am lucky enough to be a short distance from a fantastic Supermercado Latino: Megamart!

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Dixon! No way! You’re in Montgomery County – that’s where I was born and raised. Where is Megamart? Is it one of the big ones? I haven’t been down towards Montgomery Village for awhile, (we live further out from the metro area)… Last time I was in the Gaithersburg area, we made a visit to Pollo Campero at Lakeforest Mall, and then there’s a Doña Azucena pupuseria/Salvadoran restaurant nearby – but I haven’t traveled down the road toward Montgomery Village for a long time.

      That’s great that you have so much love for the culture – I definitely know how that is :)

      • Megamart is in a strup mall at 401 Frederick Avenue (close to Popeye’s). I guess it’s officially in Gaithersburg. You should try it sometime. It’s not huge, but they have everything latino, and their prices are really inexpensive. They have a real butcher, and get very fresh fish in on Fridays. I get to practice my Spanish, since there is no English spoken there (which is cool with me). Everyone is really nice.

        My absolute favorite place to eat in Gaithersburg is Sardi’s (Peruvian). Have you been there? I haven’t tried Doña Azcuena yet, but it’s walking distance from my apartment.

      • If it’s not that big I probably won’t visit any time soon as we have a few small and medium-sized Latino markets, and one large international market with lots of Latin American options out my way… I will definitely check out the Peruvian place though – haven’t been there.

        Doña Azucena’s is good (and pretty famous in the region), but I prefer La Frontera in downtown Gaithersburg. Have you ever had Salvadoran pupusas? Sounds like you hang out mostly with Mexicans, so I’ll explain pupusas this way – they are somewhat similar to gorditas, (though not at all the same exact thing.) … Hope you get a chance to try them!

  5. I make a variety of tamales of chicken, pork or beef. And I always make some with roasted poblano and jack cheese. It’s just as easy to make more than one kind at once if you have a big tamalera.

    Making them is a lot of work, but once you’ve got a few dozen in the freezer, you can just steam them for quick dinners. I always make the fillings one day, and put the tamales together on another. If you soak the hojas for at least a full day, it’s easier to make the tamales. And be sure to buy the good hojas: estilo “concha”: it’s well worth the difference in price!

    Sorry to be long-winded: as you can tell, I’m passionate about the subject.

  6. Twas the night before Christmas, when on the comales
    Not a pot was boiling, except for tamales.
    The pork bien picada, the masa helada,
    All in ready for the day`s Tamalada

    The pots were washed, all shiny and shimmering,
    Las ojas were soaking, waiting for simmering.
    Abuelo on the sofa, the TV screaming,
    Abuelita on the bed, of lotto dreaming.

    When out in the street, pitos were honking,
    Abuelo yelled, “Wake up, Nietos coming”.
    The family arrived, dressed in delantales,
    Breanna in her wool, Xmas guantes.

    Andale Estella, Eva, mas pronto Juan!
    Muevele Christina, Miguel Y no tardes Don.
    Familia presente, at Inez`s kitchen table,
    Except for Cesar, lacking jumper cables.

    No frijoles ni queso, for filling instead,
    Only the best, of the cerdo`s head.
    No time to tear, a strip for a belt,
    The fold will hold itself or be dealt.

    To the elbows in masa, nails stained with red chili.
    Hands sticky with mole, we near dozen fifty.
    Tamales as gifts the relatives all want,
    For neighbors , el Hefe and my favorite aunt.

    With palita we spread, the masa so thin,
    Thick as a log, is a mortal sin.
    With gossip and chisme we forge on ahead,
    Nearing the clean-up we all dearly dread.

    A la olla they go con mucho cuidado
    Standing tall, como un soldado.
    Tamales a cooking, a la puerta we run
    Now it’s time for Posadas Fun !

    Después La Posada, Tamales we enjoy,
    Makes it worth, the trabajo hoy.
    All eaten before the Candelaria,
    None left, in the olla Tamalera.

    The dozens divided, carried by armload,
    The finished relief, made all smiles glow.
    Exhausted craving, for menudo or fajitas,
    We left Abuelita , with an icy margarita.

    Hurry home not to miss, La Misa de Gallo,
    As we try to keep tomorrow`s day hallow.
    A final shout, saludos finales,
    Feliz Navida ! y Viva tamales !

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