Tamales are made of a mix of meats and corn masa, wrapped in corn husks. Here the tamales are served with lime, garnish and a salsa. Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Whether they are stuffed with chicken, pork or beef, home-cooked tamales have become one of my new favorite dishes. The flavor and texture are completely different than what I have tasted in restaurants. There are bold flavors and subtle flavors, and you can taste them all.
These tasty little packages of goodness are surprisingly filling and taste good plain or combined with sauces and sides. They also look cool, wrapped in their husks and tied up with a ribbon like a gift.
In this household, the pork tamales rule. Making them is a two-day process for me. I cook the pork the first day, then stuff them the second day. They make a nice meal.
Getting the masa right is important. You can make them a little softer, or adjust the broth or water content to make them a bit more firm.
When I recently cooked them for a family event, my youngest son added a squeeze of lime to his. It wasn’t bad. I personally like to spice them up with homemade salsa.
Tamales are best when they come out of the steamer, and I would allow two to four per person. They can be quite addictive.
In the future, I would like to try other ways to prepare tamales. I have sampled Guatemalan tamales, which have been prepared with chicken and cooked in banana leaves. They are very different from the Mexican style, with different flavors and seasonings, along with a softer masa.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jar Goya recaito cooking base
1 (7-ounce) can diced green chile peppers
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced
2 packets Sazon seasoning with coriander and annatto
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Fresh ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
Masa mix (see tips)
Corn husks (see tips)
For the pork: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and brown the pork on all sides. Transfer the pork to a slow cooker, reserving the juices in the skillet.
In the skillet with the pork juices over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic about 1 minute. Transfer to the slow cooker, along with the skillet juice.
Add the jar of cilantro sauce, green chile peppers, jalapeno peppers and Sazon seasoning into the slow cooker. Season with oregano and pepper. Pour in enough water to cover all ingredients. Cover, and cook on high for 6 to 7 hours.
- Masa: I used Maseca brand Instant Corn Masa Mix for Tamales, which can be found at most local grocers, and followed the directions on the package. I also added an additional packet of Sazon to the masa instead of salt.
- Corn husks: The corn husks need to soak in hot water in a bowl for about 15 minutes. Use some of the broken, torn or small ones for ties. Tear them into strips about a quarter-inch wide.
Remove pork from the cooker and shred with a fork. Strain the remaining ingredients through a fine sieve, reserving the juices for the masa mix. Add some of the strained peppers and onions to the pork and mix well.
For the masa mix: Follow directions for tamales on package, using reserved skillet juices to moisten the corn flour. If desired, substitute Sazon seasoning in lieu of salt.
For the tamales: Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the masa mix onto a husk. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the pork mixture onto the masa. Add fresh cilantro. Fold over the bottom half of the husk and roll like a cigar until closed. Use the husk strips to tie the tamale together, making sure it will not come undone during cooking. At this point, your tamales may be frozen for future use.
Place the tamales into a steamer basket and steam for 45 minutes to an hour.
Serve alone or with salsa.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...