In celebration of Cinco de Mayo this week, I challenged Rachel to make tamales. I decided to go fairly traditional for mine, with just a slight twist on the flavors.
What are Tamales?
A tamale is a filled corn flour dumpling, usually wrapped in a corn husk (which can be found in most major grocery stores) and steamed, originating from Central and South America. Some cultures use sections of banana leaf instead of the corn husks when making tamales, but they can be hard to find and are very perishable.
This weekend I made a simple roast chicken for dinner Friday night and pulled beef for lunch on Saturday. My kids, like many, complain about eating leftovers. What can I do to reinvent these proteins? Tamales! While tamales are often filled with shredded pork, there is no reason you couldn’t use beef, poultry, fish, or even vegetables for your filling. Included are two filling recipes that make great use of leftover chicken and pulled beef.
I have broken this down to 3 recipes, plus a bonus recipe. The first recipe is for the tamale dough, assembly, and cooking. The other two recipes for the chicken and beef fillings and the bonus recipe is for a jerk seasoning that is used in the chicken filling, but can be used to season a myriad of things. Feel free to play with the filling recipes and adjust them to your liking. These go great with my fermented hot sauce.
Tamale Dough, Construction, And Cooking Instructions
Tamales are a delicious steamed dumpling that hails from Central and South America. It is usually made from a corn flour dough that is wrapped around a filling. The filling is traditionally some sort of meat, but could be vegetables or even fish. Tamales make a great snack, side, or even a small meal, especially when served with some salsa and guacamole. Don't forget the hot sauce and beer to wash it all down.
- 3 1/2 Cups Corn Flour (Masa) Not corn meal, this is much finer
- 4 oz Schmaltz or Vegetable shortening Or lard if you are not kosher
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 tbsp Baking Powder
- 4 Cups Stock Chicken, Beef, or Vegetable depending on your filling
- 1 Cup Filling See recipes below
- 24 Dried Corn Husks
- Butchers Twine
- Large Pot With a Steamer Basket
Put the corn husks in a large bowl and pour 5 cups of boiling water over the husks. Let soak for an hour.
In another bowl add the corn flour, baking powder, and salt and stir to combine thoroughly.
Melt the schmaltz/shortening and add it to the stock.
Add the stock and fat to the dry ingredients slowly, you may not need all of the liquid mix, and knead until a clay like dough is formed.
Place a corn husk in front of you with the wider end facing away from you.
Place 2 tablespoons of dough on the husk and press in to a rectangle starting a 1/2" from the top and sides of the husk and should be about 1/2 the length of the husk.
Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the middle of the dough rectangle and form in to a log shape. Avoid getting too close to the any of the sides.
Using the husk, form the dough around the filling and and then roll the husk around the filled dough.
On the seam side fold the the bottom section of the husk up. and place upside down. Once you have 3 tamales complete tie in to a bundle using the butchers twine, with the seams facing in. Place the bundle in the steamer basket with the open side facing up.
Add water to the pot, so it comes just below the steamer basket and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and place the steamer basket over the water. Steam covered for about an hour and eat immediately or allow to cool, wrap in plastic, and freeze.
This works great with cheaper cuts of meat like chuck, shank, or brisket. Stay away from something like rib eye. Don't limit yourself to just using this for for tamales. It can be used in kreplach, egg rolls, or just put on a hamburger bun and eaten as a sandwich.
- 1 Cup Shredded Beef Leftover chuck roast, or pot roast work great. You could use brisket but stay away from the pricey cuts like rib roasts.
- 1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce
- 1 Cup Water
- 1 Large Onion Chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic Chopped
- 1 Bell Pepper Diced
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil For sauteing
- 1 Medium Sauce Pan With Lid
Add the olive oil to medium sauce pot and place over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until the onions start to brown.
Add the garlic and bell pepper to the pot and continue sauteing until the peppers start to soften and the garlic starts to brown.
Add the beef, BBQ sauce, and water. Turn down to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent burning. Allow to cool before using as filling
This is a great way to use up leftover chicken or turkey. One note, do not use the entire recipe of jerk seasoning. It is strong stuff, two tablespoons should be enough. Don't limit to just using this for for tamales. It can be used in won tons, crepes, or even ravioli.
- 2 Cups Shredded Roast Chicken No need to make fresh. Use leftovers or even store bought rotisserie will work in a pinch
- 1 Cup Chicken Stock
- 1 Large Onion Chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic Chopped
- 2 Tbsp Jerk Seasoning See recipe below. Store bought can be used in a pinch.
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Medium sized sauce pot with a lid
Add the oil, onions, and garlic to a medium sauce pan and place over medium heat. Saute until the onions start to brown.
Add the chicken, stock, and seasoning. Turn down to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent burning. Allow to cool before using as filling.
- 1 tbsp Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tbsp Onion Powder
- 1 tbsp Black Peppercorns
- 1 tbsp Juniper Berries
- 1 tbsp Cloves
- 1 tsp Nutmeg
- 1 tbsp Thyme
- 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- 1 tbsp Smoked Paprika
- Spice or Coffee Grinder
Grind the salt, red pepper flake, peppercorns, cloves, and juniper berries, together in an electric spice or coffee grinder and pour in to a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and stir combine.
Don’t forget to check out Rachel’s tamale recipe: Spicy Salmon Tamales