Folks, it isn’t Christmas until it’s Tamales!!!
I published this post a few years ago and as I reviewed it for an update…I had to smile at my chubby hands and fingers and my black granite countertops, ….all before Pancreatic Cancer and our kitchen remodel. Even the old dining room chairs and outdated paint in the background gave me a chuckle. Don’t ya just love looking back???
Sorry, I digress.
I am repeating the tamale recipe this year because …well, because it is not Christmas until it’s tamales in our home!
It is getting serious folks!
Yessssss, almost Christmas and of course….tamale time.
While living in New Mexico, I found there are so many traditions that are simply wonderful! And one such tradition is Tamales for Christmas Eve or even on Christmas Day….Tamales along with Bizcochitos Cookies and I am taken back to the Land of Enchantment…..the beautiful state of New Mexico and all my friends and family. (See recipe link below for New Mexico Bizcochito Cookies)
Yes, the cookie can be spelled with an “s” or a “z”…depending on where you get the recipe.
The recipe below is a great tasting cookie and is from my sister-in-“love”, who was not only born and raised in New Mexico…but she still lives there… a mere few yards from her child hood home.
As I have discussed in previous posts and Mexican recipes…Red or Green is the question of the day for your taste buds. That is always the question asked of you when dining in New Mexico restaurants, whether you are eating eggs, Posole, burritos, enchiladas or just about any Mexican dish….you are asked which chile “sauce” do you want smothering or added on the side to your dinner.
Today, we are making tamales and using a red chile sauce which is so very easy to make.
In fact, making tamales is easy…contrary to what you might have heard.
Time consuming? Perhaps…but if you take each step and make ahead of time…it is a whiz to make. You see, the red chile sauce can be made and popped into your freezer in 2 cup portions and the beef brisket, chicken or pork shoulder or whatever you are making for the tamale filling, can be made and popped into the freezer…. or at least made the day before you want to serve your tamales. AND, you can also make the tamales and place them in plastic freezer bags and then all you have to do is thaw and steam and you have tamales…Ole!
A wonderful Christmas Tradition and let’s face it folks….Really Delicious and Really Simple!
Now for the confession: It is true, the most time consuming part of making tamales is the spreading of the Masa on the soaked corn husk and placing the tablespoon or so of meat filling into the center and wrapping each tamale. However, it is no different than taking the time to frost each and every sugar cookie…and you can always enlist the help of your children or hubby if you feel time is getting away from you. Trust me on this! After you fill and wrap the tamale…simply place the tamales open side up in a large pot (or steamer) with a bit of water in the bottom and steam for about an hour!
Note: If your tamales don’t fill your pot add crumpled aluminum foil to fill in the open spaces so your tamales stand up in the pot.
Now how easy is that?
So lets talk Red Chile Sauce….
Usually, you can find dried red chile pods in 12 ounce bags in your supermarket or a specialty Mexican or Cuban Market…however, they are available on-line at Amazon, here. (what would we do without Amazon?) I like to get mine directly from New Mexico….they have great Ristras (hanging red pepper pods) too!
Make sure your chiles are pliable and soft to begin with. If they are too old, they will be brittle and crumble. I like to take the red chile pods and put them in a bowl of water to wash and tear off the stems (or cut with scissors). Discard the stems and seeds,…it is ok to have some seeds in the sauce… and place the softened red peppers in boiling water for about 15-20 minutes to allow the chiles to re-constitute.
If you are not seasoned to working with hot peppers, use gloves and don’t touch your eyes or mouth to prevent the oils from getting on your skin. Drain (save the water) and place the peppers in a blender with a little of the chile water (nothing goes to waste)….Add garlic, onion powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and blend! And that is it! Make small batches, it is easier working with the hot liquids in your blender. Repeat the process until you have all your chiles blended into the Red Chile Sauce.
Tip: For really great flavor, you can substitute the garlic and onion powder and roast 4-5 cloves of garlic and one large onion sliced in big slices and add the fresh veggies to the blender. This roasted flavor really adds to the flavor of the red chile sauce.
You might have to strain your sauce to remove any of the “skin” that might not have pulverized, but other than that….you have “Red” sauce. I like to put about a tablespoon of Red Chile Sauce on top of my filling before wrapping my tamale….but you can also add the Red Chile Sauce on the side to be added as desired.
The recipe below makes about 7-8 cups so freezing the extra in zip-lock bags makes for delicious burritos or eggs the next time you make them. I find that the less water, the thicker the red sauce…However, if you are wanting to stretch your sauce, use a little more water and you can thicken up the sauce real easy by making a thickener of a little flour and oil and add it to the red sauce just before using it in a recipe. The Red Chile Sauce will keep 6 months in the freezer and about 2 weeks in the fridge.
Now, we will talk about the filling for your tamales.
It can be beef, chicken or pork, I happen to prefer pork, so I use a pork shoulder that I can put in the crock pot or oven and cook low and slow until it is fork tender and shreds easily. After shredding the meat, it is time to add a few spices….for example, if I use a 2 pound piece of meat, I use about 2 teaspoons garlic powder, cumin, salt, chile powder and freshly ground black pepper. IF you like your filling really paste-y, you can put the meat in a food processor, but my family prefers just a fine shred using forks. It is just a matter of preference. Below pic is just before the final shredding, so easy when the meat is so tender.
Time to make the Masa….or the casing for the meat….the real “bread” of the tamale.
Again, very simple to make….
I use my stand mixer to mix up the lard (or you can use shortening) and salt until light and fluffy. Then I add the Masa (cornmeal flour) a little at a time beating slowly until well mixed. For the liquid, I use boxed beef broth (if using beef), chicken broth (if using chicken) or vegetable broth (if using pork) OR you can use plain water!
Slowly add the liquid to the dough which should be about the consistency of soft cookie dough…it is something you will learn to judge the more you make tamales. One easy test is to use the water test. This is much like testing fudge by dropping a bit of fudge into cold water for the soft ball test. Only, you drop about a teaspoon of the Masa dough into the cold water and if it floats…you should have a tender tamale dough when steamed. If it does not float, add a bit more liquid and test again. I like to mix up my tamale dough and place in the fridge overnight or at least 3-4 hours if you are short on time.
After placing in the fridge for a bit….the fun part begins, the assembly of the tamales. Make it a fun project with “all your little helpers” or as in my case…my Captain!
Soak the corn husks in water for about 30 minutes. (usually you can find these in your super market but they also can be found here)
Pat dry with paper towels and spread the Masa on the top of the corn husk….leaving the bottom edge to fold up. After the Masa comes the prepared filling and Red Chile Sauce if desired.
Fold from the right to left center and then fold the left over the top of the right fold….then fold up the bottom and you can either leave your tamale as is or tie with twine or a piece of corn husk.
Place the tamales bottom side down (open end up) in a deep pot of simmering water. I use my pasta pot with steamer. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes.
There you go…simple huh?
Go forth and make New Mexico Christmas Tamales….you won’t regret it…and your family will love you.
Printable Recipes are below!
Countdown to Christmas is beginning.
Blessings and hugs to all….
“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
- 1 pound (16 ounces) dried red chile pods
- 3 tablespoons garlic powder or freshly minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2-3 teaspoons salt
- Using gloves to protect from the burning sensation of working with chile pods...remove the stems by either cutting or breaking off with your hands and discard. I do not remove the seeds because I like to have the "look" of them and you will be grinding them up later. (Remember it is the veins on the pepper that produce the "hot fire-y" taste)
- Add the red chile pods to a large pot of boiling water, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer the chiles for about 30 minutes or until soft and brighter red
- At this point you can cool the pods for a bit or put them directly into your blender, but be careful and don't put too many in at one time....about half way up the sides of your blender.
- Add the boiling liquid from the chiles....about 1-2 cups (save the remainder of the liquid) and add the garlic and onion powder, cumin, oregano, and salt.
- Pulse and Blend until ingredients are thoroughly mixed and then blend until smooth, about 3-5 minutes
- Strain the sauce through a strainer and this will separate any of the extra "peels" to remain in the strainer....sometimes there are very little peels and sometimes there are a lot depending on your chiles.
- Add the remainder of your chiles to the blender until you have processed all the chiles. Mix all the chiles together and you should have about 6-7 cups of *Red Chile Sauce.
- *You can freeze this wonderful Red Chile Sauce in Freezer bags for up to 6 months. I just put a quart sized freezer bag in a large measuring cup or bowl and ladle my sauce in (about 2 cups) seal and flatten a bit, place on cookie sheet and toss in the freezer. (Later you can remove cookie sheet)
- **** If the red chile sauce is not "sweet" enough for you, you can add a bit of chicken broth to taste.
- 2 pounds of fully cooked pork roast (or beef roast/brisket, or roasted chicken
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Mix all the spices and use as a dry rub on the meat of your choice....in this case pork roast. Save some back to add to the shredded meat when cooked.
- Brown in a little olive oil before putting in slow cooker or oven.
- Bake low and slow in slow cooker for 6-8 hours or on high for about 4 hours. Just make sure your meat is nice and tender.....hence the low and slow.
- When done, cool a bit and shred the meat and add the remaining spices. You may put the meat through a food processor if you want more of a paste for your filling....I prefer having a bit of texture so I finely shred mine.
- Fill tamales with about 1 tablespoon of the meat filling and 1 teaspoon of Red Chile Sauce if desired.
- You can use any seasoning you prefer, but I like to use the ratio of 2 lbs of meat with with two teaspoons each of garlic and onion powder, cumin, chili powder, salt and black pepper. Spice it up "your way"
- If the shredded meat needs a little liquid, you can use broth of your choice
- 2 cups Lard (or you can use Crisco shortening)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 4 cups Masa Harina
- 1 1/2 cups of broth ...Broth depends on the meat you are using for your filling. ie: vegetable (or chicken) broth for pork, beef broth for beef, chicken broth for chicken
- The broth is added gradually and you may need more as the amount of liquid needed will vary
- Mix the room temperature lard and salt until light and fluffy, I use my stand mixer
- Slowly add the Masa Harina, beating until well mixed (this will look very stiff and like cookie dough)
- Slowly add the broth a little at a time. You want the dough to be of spreading consistency...like very thick frosting
- Test the dough with the water test....place a small ball of dough in a cup of cold water...if the ball floats, the dough is good to go....if the ball sinks, add more liquid to the mix.
- Place bowl of tamale dough covered with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight or at least for 3-4 hours.
- Remove from fridge and stir or beat again to assure spreadability
- (Perform the float test again to ensure spreadability of dough)
- After soaking corn husks for at least 30 minutes to an hour....drain and blot dry with paper towel
- Spread the Masa dough in a rectangular shape onto the corn husk, leaving the bottom free of dough so you may fold over
- Add about a tablespoon of your filling of choice and a teaspoon of Red Chile Sauce if desired
- Fold the edge of the corn husk towards the center and bring the other side over the top of that, then fold up the bottom.
- At this point you may tie with twine or a piece of corn husk or leave as is and place with the folded bottom towards the bottom of a large steamer or pot that has about an inch of water
- *Be sure to place the tamale upright, open ends up (I use the strainer of my pasta pot)
- Cover and steam for about 45 minutes to one hour (The water in the pasta pot should be simmering as you place the tamales in the pot....be very careful to not burn yourself)
- Steam for about 45 minutes (you can check for doneness at this point and steam for additional few minutes if the tamale is still a bit raw)
- Serve with the Red Chile Sauce or you can make it a complete meal using Pico de Gallo, chile con queso, Mexican rice and refried beans
- *Usually, the tamales will not fill the pot completely, so I wad up a large piece of aluminum foil to put in the center to allow the tamales to stand. Just experiment a bit and it will all come together.