Pictured: Tamale Pie, upper right, Refried Beans, and Cheese Enchiladas
OK, I absolutely adore a good tamale. (That old starch addiction of mine, I’m sure.) But I am not about to do the whole corn husk thing, especially when I want to serve tamales to a crowd. (Thank goodness there are actually times when my better judgment and survival instincts work together to save what little bit of sanity I have left.) So, where does that leave me when I want to serve tamales to the masses, or just want tamales for Mr. C. and myself? Well, of course, Mr. C. and I can always pop off to a Mexican foodatorium, but darn, you only get at the most 2 little tamales stuffed with not even enough meat to upset your average vegetarian. So when I went in search of an easy way to make tamales I stumbled onto this recipe on a site entitled “Please, don’t pass the salt!” I really enjoyed the author’s comments and of course I had to give the recipe a try. So off to the store to buy masa mix I proceeded. I thought I would have a difficult time, but even my local grocery store on the island carried what I needed. (So very nice when that happens.) So armed with nothing more than a burning desire for a tamale and my new found knowledge, I set about making myself (and Mr. C. of course) some tamales for dinner. It turned out that the dough recipe from the site was basically the same recipe as on the Instant Corn Masa Mix bag, but the technique for building the tamale pie was what I found most informative. So after carefully following the recipe instructions, except for the filling (I chose to use my own recipe because I knew I liked it), my tamale pie went into the oven. As I pulled it out of the oven (carefully by the way), I knew I had a winner. It smelled just like a good tamale should smell. And when I finally bit into the tamale pie, I was immediately lifted to Mexican food heaven. And so what if I didn’t have a sticky corn husk to peel off before eating! (After all, most restaurants don’t serve tamales in their corn husk skins anyway.) Instead, I had a big old lovely piece of tamale pie, thick with meat that was ever so lovingly encased in a flavorful masa crust, and drizzled with a fabulous chili sauce. Final analysis, did I miss the whole corn husk part of making tamales? Not in the least! (That’s like asking if I miss mosquitoes when I go hiking in late fall? Same answer!) There are just some things in life that are better off not experiencing. I figure corn husk manipulation is just one of those experiences I will gladly forgo.
Tamale Filling (aka Mexican Shredded Meat):
- 1 lb. lean pork or beef cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 T. chili powder
- 2 tsp. granulated garlic
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
Put the chunks of meat into a stockpot and add all of the remaining seasoning ingredients, except for the onion. Cover with water plus about a half inch and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Add the chopped onion and continue simmering, covered, for an additional hour. Uncover, stir to begin breaking up meat and continue simmering until liquid begins to reduce and meat shreds easily, about 1 more hour. Let cool.
- 2 ¼ c. Instant Corn Masa Mix for Tamales (Maseca for Tamales)
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- 2 c. lukewarm broth (I use “Better than Bouillon reduced sodium chicken base” carried by Costco)
- ½ c. vegetable oil
Combine masa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add warm broth and oil. Stir together until dough is thoroughly combined. Cover and let rest for at least 15 minutes so the masa can thoroughly absorb the moist ingredients. Butter a 9 x 9-inch square ovenproof casserole dish. Press a little more than half of the tamale dough into the casserole dish. Using your hands (best tools in the kitchen) press the mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides of the dish, about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Using a slotted spoon, scoop a generous amount of the filling evenly over the dough, being careful not to spoon in too much gravy. (Remaining liquid can be thickened and served over tamales.) Carefully spread the remaining tamale dough over the filling, trying to make the top portion the same thickness as the bottom. Fill a large roasting pan with about 2 inches of very hot water and put the uncovered tamale casserole in the water bath. Cover both the casserole and the roaster with 2 layers of regular or 1 layer of heavy duty aluminum foil. Carefully set the roaster in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Bake for about 50 minutes or until the masa is set. Remove from oven, uncover and let cool a few minutes before serving. Serve warm with Green Chili Sauce with Pork, Red Chili Sauce, or gravy made from the filling liquid. Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped onions, salsa, or whatever your little heart desires. Leftover meat mixture is great for tacos, as a filling for enchiladas or burritos, or to top tostadas. And it freezes beautifully. To fancy things up a bit, try making individual “tamales” in muffin tins.