I know I talk about how much I miss Mexican food a lot, but I really, really miss it. It simply isn’t the same here in New York City. I suppose that I could have predicted this, but when I moved here, I thought that there would be the best of the best from every culture. While there is some delicious Latin food available, it just isn’t the same delicious Sonoran Mexican food that Kramer and I crave on an almost daily basis. Can you blame us? You always want what you can’t have. Scratch that. I can have it. I just have to make it myself, which can sometimes be quite an undertaking. The reward, though, is completely worth all of the hard work. Now, making tamales isn’t completely impossible. It’s actually quite doable. It’s just something that you have to plan for, and hopefully, you’ll spend two days on it, so you aren’t cursing the gods by 9 PM when you’re tying your 100th tamale with very breakable corn husk strings. Kramer and I formed a two-man assembly line while forming our tamales; he filled most of them, while I tied the strings around the ends. He, of course, filled the tamales far faster than I could ever hope to tie them, so I asked him to stop filling them for a moment and help me tie them. Not a minute later, Kramer exclaimed, “Hey, guess what? You’re a lot better at this than me!” and with that, we went back to our original arrangement. I don’t mean to scare you away from tying them, though! They are so adorable with the corn husk strands on the ends, not to mention impressive! It’s the perfect holiday food, because you have to unwrap it to get to the good stuff inside. In our case, that stuff was some very succulent pork shoulder, marinated in Guajillo chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, and salt overnight, then slowly roasted for over 3 hours in the oven, topped with some spicy salsa verde, as the pork was somewhat mild and I wanted my tamales to have a little more heat to them. The salsa is completely optional, and that’s the beauty of tamales – you can fill them with whatever you want! For example, my friend Valerie told me that her mom’s recipe calls for potatoes and pickled jalapenos to be placed alongside the roasted pork, which I think sounds quite tasty! Add whatever ingredients you love, because this recipe makes 30-40 tamales, which is plenty to freeze and eat later or to give away to thankful friends and family. I’m really glad that I finally got the courage to make some tamales of my own, because not only am I not afraid to make them anymore, but they are truly a labor of love and you can continue to enjoy your hard work for weeks to come, as you pull tamale after tamale out of your freezer for a quick breakfast (yes, they are a fantastic breakfast), lunch or dinner. It may sound daunting, but once you’re in the kitchen, it’s not that hard, believe me. I hope that you will make some tamales this holiday season so that you and your friends and family can celebrate in true (delicious) Mexican style.
Now for the pork. I bought a whole pork shoulder, with skin and bones still attached, but you can buy yours boneless and skinless. If you bought one like me, though, get rid of the skin, any excessive fat, and the bones. Set aside.
Cut your pork into chunks and place them in a large sealable bag. Add all of the chile marinade to the bag, making sure that the pork is as coated as possible, and let sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Move the pork to a large bowl and toss with some of the juices for the pan for moisture. Keep the juices from the pan in a small bowl, in case you need it later to add some more moisture back to the pork while you make your tamales later (I used about 1/2 of the juices from the pan). All of this can be done two days ahead of time.
Wash your tomatillos and your jalapeno peppers, and place them on a lined baking sheet with your shallot and unpeeled garlic. Roast at 375 degrees F for 8-10 minutes in the oven, until the garlic is golden and the jalapeno peppers are just beginning to blacken. Remove the shallot, garlic, and jalapeno pepper and set aside. Continue to roast the tomatillos for another 5-8 minutes, until beginning to blacken on the bottom (lift one up to check). Remove from oven.
Soak your corn husks in warm water for at least 30 minutes before you begin to assemble your tamales. I let mine soak for 2 hours, and I weighted them down with some ceramic bowls to be sure that all of the husks were soaking.
Beat your shortening until it’s light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add your masa to the shortening and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl while you do it so everything is evenly mixed.
Now, get your steamer ready. I explained a few different options for this below in the recipe. I don’t have a real steamer, so I made two different ones. I used the tray from my rice cooker and put that in a large pot, then filled it with about an inch of water.
- 4-5 pounds pork shoulder
- 15 dried Guajillo chiles (these are quite mild chiles, so if you want something a bit spicier, I suggest you go for it)
- 6-8 cups hot water (for soaking the chiles in)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2½ teaspoons oregano
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 pound fresh tomatillos (alternatively, you can use the pre-roasted tomatillos in a can)
- 1 shallot (or ¼ an onion), peeled and cut in half
- 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 2-3 jalapeno peppers (I used 2; if you like it spicy, use 3, if you like it mild, use 1)
- a large handful of cilantro
- juice of ½ a lime
- ⅛ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1⅓ cup shortening
- 4 cups masa mix (I used the Maseca brand, which I highly recommend – please note that this is not just corn flour, it is masa mix made from cornmeal)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 4 cups good quality broth (I used a stock that I made and froze from my Thanksgiving turkey, but you can use any high quality broth, such as beef broth, as long as it isn’t low-sodium or anything like that. You want your masa to be full of FLAVOR!)
- 60 dried corn husks (this is more than you need, but you will need extras for tying the tamales with and it’s good to have some extras in case you mess up)
- prepared masa (recipe above)
- 4-5 pounds roasted pork (recipe above)
- 2 cups salsa verde (recipe above – feel free to use store bought salsa if you’re short on time)
- First, you need to rehydrate your chiles. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Cut the stems off of your chiles, and shake out as many seeds as possible. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until the chiles are just beginning to blacken. Pick them up and shake out any remaining seeds (you don’t have to get them all, don’t worry), then place in a large bowl and cover with hot water (I just used the hottest water from my tap, but my tap gets pretty scalding hot) and cover with a paper towel. Let sit for 30 minutes or so, stirring halfway through to be sure that the chiles are all immersed in the water.
- When the chiles are ready, remove them with tongs and place them in a food processor or a blender, along with about 1½ cups of water that the chiles were soaking in, the peeled garlic, the oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper flakes, if you like (I didn’t think my pork was spicy enough, but you can always add them after the pork is cooked, just to be safe). Pulse until you have a very smooth puree. Set aside.
- Remove any large bits of fat, skin, or bone from your pork (a little fat is fine, it’s even encouraged, but you don’t want big hunks of it messing up your delicious pork) and cut into pieces about the size of your hand. Place the pork in a sealable bag (you can use Tupperware, but I prefer a sealable bag, such as Ziploc, for even marinating and easy clean up) and pour in the chile marinade. Seal and shake to make sure that your pork is completely coated. Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours, but 24 hours is preferred (I let mine sit for a full 24 hours).
- When the pork is ready, preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Place your pork and the rest of the marinade in a baking dish (I used a glass 9×13 baking dish) and cover tightly with foil (or a lid, if you’re lucky enough to have an oven-safe one). Roast for 3½ – 4 hours, until tender. You shouldn’t even need to shred this pork with two forks, you should just be able to pull it apart effortlessly with one fork. When ready, move the pork to a cutting board and leave the juices in the pan. Shred the pork, then chop it a bit, if you like. I chopped mine so that the tamales would be easier to eat later. Add in about half of the juices that are still in the pan and toss the pork in a large bowl. Add more if needed, and keep any remaining juices to add the pork as you assemble your tamales, just in case it starts to look a bit dried out to you (I did not need to do this, but better safe than sorry). Set aside until ready to use in the tamales, or you can store the pork in the fridge in Tupperware until you’re ready to use it.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. If you’re using fresh tomatillos, peel them and rinse them under hot water to remove any stickiness. If you are using canned tomatillos, don’t do anything with them yet. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and place the washed tomatillos on it. Alongside the tomatillos, place the peeled and cut in half shallot, the unpeeled garlic cloves, and the washed jalapeno pepper. Roast for 8-10 minutes in the oven, until the garlic is golden and the jalapeno peppers are just beginning to blacken. Remove the shallot, garlic, and jalapeno pepper and set aside. Continue to roast the tomatillos for another 5-8 minutes, until beginning to blacken on the bottom (lift one up to check). Remove from oven.
- Cut the tops off of your jalapeno peppers and peel your garlic. Place the peppers, shallot, and garlic in a food processor or blender, then add in the tomatillos, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse until smooth, taste, adjust seasonings as needed, and set aside until ready to use. You can make this salsa up to 3 days ahead and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge until ready to use. Makes about 2 cups of salsa.
- With an electric mixer, beat your shortening until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. In a separate large bowl, combine the masa mix, baking powder, and salt. Add the masa mixture to the shortening, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you beat it in to be sure that everything is combined evenly. Set aside until ready to use.
- Arrange all of the corn husks in the largest bowl or pan that you have (don’t worry when they overlap, it’s fine as long as they get wet) and cover completely with hot water (I, again, just used the hottest water from my tap). Place something heavy on top of the husks, such as two ceramic bowls (like I did, see the photo above) so that the husks are submerged and soaking for at least 30 minutes, but as long as two hours. Drain the water from the bowl (no need to thoroughly dry the husks) and set aside until ready to use.
- I found that it made things easier to assemble things on my kitchen table (see photo above). Set out your corn husks, your masa, your roasted pork, and your salsa verde. Pick out a sturdy corn husk (one without tears or holes) and, using a spatula or a large, flat spoon (I actually used the paddle from my rice maker and it worked really well), take about 2-3 tablespoons of masa. Start about an inch or two down from the top of the corn husk (the top being the skinny part), then spread the masa down the corn husk as evenly as you can (don’t worry about perfection here, seriously). Look at the photos above for a guide.
- Now, add about 2-3 tablespoons of pork on top of the masa, followed by about 3 teaspoons of salsa on top of that. Fold or roll (whatever is easier for you) the tamale so that it is sealed, then fold in both ends of the corn husk. Alternatively, you can fold the tamale only on one side, leaving one end open (you can see how I did a few of these this way above). It works just as well, it just isn’t as “pretty”. Do what it easier for you!
- Use a corn husk that has a tear or hole in it for the strands to tie the tamale. Simply peel a strand of the husk from top to bottom, then secure the folded ends of the tamale by tying it around the ends. CAUTION: The strands will break every so often, but don’t despair! Just keep going, I promise that it gets easier. Continue assembling the tamales this way until you have run out of pork or until you can’t do any more (we saved a bit of pork for breakfast burritos this next day).
- Finally, you are ready to steam your tamales. If you have a steamer, great, but if you don’t, there are two options. The first option is to use the tray from your rice cooker, as I did (see photos above). I simply placed the tray in the bottom of a large pot, filled it with about an inch of water, then laid a dish towel over it, to protect it from the water below (see photo above). I then filled the pot with as many tamales as I could fit, folded the ends of the towel in over the tamales, and sealed it with a lid. Your other option is to set a cooling rack into a 9×13 casserole dish (I did this as well since I had so many tamales, but forgot to take photos of it – it worked really well!), fill with about an inch of water, then set the tamales on top of the cooling rack and cover tightly with foil.
- If you are using a steamer or a make-shift stove-top steamer, cook over medium-low heat for 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you are using the cooling rack/casserole dish method, bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. After the time is up, remove the cover, turn off the heat, and unwrap your delicious tamales! Serve with some of the leftover salsa on top. Makes 30-40 tamales.