Monday, April 25, 2005

Beef Tamales

In anticipation of Cinco de Mayo, I’m declaring the next four weeks our official Unofficial Mexican Food Month here at the Redneck Gourmet. I can do this because 1) its my blog and 2) I really like Mexican cuisine.

When I was a kid, I had the opportunity to visit Mexico a couple of times with my parents on vacation. As a result, I learned to like Mexican food at an early age. Oddly enough, there was a pretty good Mexican restaurant in our little town in south Alabama in a time prior to the modern invasion of Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal. Now you can’t turn a corner in most cities without finding a Mexican restaurant, but back then they were few and far between in the southeastern US.

One item was published on the menu at our local El Palacio Restaurant which was hardly ever available…


For some reason their kitchen had trouble making tamales or they couldn’t get all of the ingredients or something—but for whatever reason they were only able to serve them about one out of ten times we dined there.

Maybe it was the psychological effect of being a scarce commodity or something else in addition to their wonderful texture and flavor, but for whatever reason, in my mind…

I absolutely love tamales.

I recently decided to learn how to make them, and it isn’t easy. But let me tell you, IT’S MOST DEFINITELY WORTH THE EFFORT!

This guy’s Website is the primary basis of my efforts this afternoon. To be fair, I also have to give this web site credit for explaining the process and linking me to other sites.

Having said all of that, as usual I’m going to change things to suit my own tastes and to make enough food for two people with a reasonable amount of leftovers (most published recipes make a zillion tamales.)

Tamales consist of a precooked meat filling, surrounded by a soft, ground corn shell made from something called Masa, which is traditionally steamed in a corn husk wrapper. The corn husks are a bit of a pain to work with and cost a little extra, but I found a good substitute—parchment paper. According to my reading, you can also use waxed paper, aluminum foil, or even paper coffee filters. The key is to wrap the assembled tamales in something to keep them together during the steaming process.

I have to admit that at first glance at the label on the bag of Masa is a little frightening. “Ground corn and lime” it says. Lime? Not limes like the green fruit called limes…I mean lime like the caustic chemical lime. I’m thinking to myself that I’m making tamales, not fertilizing the yard here, so what’s with the lime--you know?

Well, I’ll have to take their word for it. Apparently the lime is common in processing corn products like hominy corn and making mesa. Tastes OK to me, by the way.

Go figure.

So here is what you need to make eight large tamales:

(2) Cups masa
(2) Tbsp corn oil
1-1/8 cup water
(1) Tsp baking powder
(1) Tsp salt

For the filling:

¾ lb beef brisket or London broil
1/8 cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Fresh-ground black pepper

(2) Tbsp lard
½ medium onion sliced thin
(4) Cloves garlic, pealed and smashed flat
(10) Black peppercorns
(1) Can of beef stock
(2) Cups of water

½ tbsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
(1) 7oz can Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce

First things first. Rinse off your piece of beef and pat dry with a clean dishtowel or paper towels. Take a large meat fork and stab the beef on both sides about twenty or thirty times to make room for the marinade to soak in.

Don’t hurt yourself in the process.

Slice the slab into 1” wide strips, toss the strips into a large zip lock bag, and pour the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper inside. Press the air out of the bag and zip it closed, then massage the liquid to mix with and saturate your beef. Toss it on the kitchen counter and get the rest of your tools and ingredients ready to work with. The meat needs to marinade for at least a half hour. I let mine go a full hour. Pick up the bag every fifteen minutes and squeeze everything around to ensure that the beef and marinade is mixed real good.

To make your tamales, you are going to need a 6 quart boiler with lid, a four quart boiler with steamer basket and lid, and a large cast iron skillet.

After the meat has been marinated, place the 6 quart boiler over medium heat and toss in the beef to sear and brown on the outside. Once browned, melt the lard, then add the can of beef stock, two cups of water, the onions, garlic, peppercorns, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Bring everything to a low boil, add the cover, and cook for a couple of hours until the meat is tender and starts to fall apart. By now the liquid should have reduced by about 1/3rd. Turn off the heat and let things cool a bit.

Once the meat has cooked, pick out the larger chunks and reserve in a bowl on the side. Pour the contents of the boiler through a colander, reserving the liquid. Pick through the colander for chunks of meat you missed, and then discard the onions and garlic.

Heat the cast iron skillet over medium heat. Shred your beef into the skillet and combine with the cumin and cayenne pepper. Add the Chipotle peppers is you like (be very careful because they are spicy HOT!) As the meat starts to sizzle, pour in a little of the reserved liquid (I used about a cup.) Cook while stirring until you have a mixture about the consistency of “sloppy Joes.” Now turn off the heat again.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the Masa with the baking powder and salt and stir well. Now add the corn oil and start adding the water a little at a time as you stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. You want to make a very stiff mixture that is slightly moist but still holds together when you press it out flat in your hand.

Put about an inch of water in your boiler and set it with the steamer basket on the stove over medium heat.

Now cut your parchment paper (mine was 12”x16” sheets) into 6”x8” rectangles. Spoon out enough of your Masa mixture to cover 4”x6” of that area. I pressed my mixture out with my hand onto the parchment, then covered it with another sheet of parchment and pressed until I got a slab about 3/16” thick. To make it a proper rectangle, tear off pieces as you work and press them where you need them, then take a knife and cut the edges nice and smooth.

This isn’t geometry class, so fool with your Masa until you are happy, then spoon out about three big teaspoons full of your meat mixture in the center. Roll the finished tamale up across in the narrow direction of the paper and then fold the two ends over once. Believe it or not, I STAPLED the paper wrappers on my tamales closed like Steve did over at Hog On Ice.

You’re in the home stretch now so stay with me here. Place your finished tamales in the steamer basket standing upright. If your basket isn’t tall enough (like mine was,) place them at least at a 45 degree angle, supported by a small juice glass or other support. Place the lid on the steamer basket, tilted slightly open to let steam escape.

Now let the tamales steam for at least 45 minutes. Step away from the stove and give yourself a nice round of applause. Mix yourself a margarita if you like. I actually made beef enchaladas, spicy mexican corn, and stuffed colored bell peppers along with my tamales, so look for more recipes later this month as I work out the details.

Serve your tamales by placing them on the plate and unwrapping them, watching out that you don't burn your fingers if they just came out of the steamer basket. Place a little salsa or adobo sauce on the side, pour a fresh margarita, and EAT!

Enjoy Y'all,

The Redneck Gourmet


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Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch for the recipe! I've move to England, and finding some of the ingredients has been a pain, but corn husks were impossible! Knowing I can use parchment paper has made my month, lol! Cheers!

pbtn said...

so glag there is a better way to make a mousetrap. found out how to make a tamali with corn husks then i can not find them anymore. i guess there is not enough mexicans requesting the real thing. i always have parchment paper. now i can rock and roll. thanks for the info