Suggested Wine Pairing: Ceja Vino de Casa White, Ceja Carneros Chardonnay, Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir, Ceja Vino de Casa Red and Ceja Carneros Merlot.
Tamales have been prepared in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. Native Indians ground corn into masa, which they combined with various fillings and wrapped in corn husks for steaming. Before the Europeans arrived, most Mexican food was steamed or boiled, not fried. The native Indians used sesame or avocado-seed oil for flavoring rather than as a cooking medium. When the Spaniards arrived with pigs, the native Indians began adding lard to tamales to lighten their consistency. Today tamales are also prepared with vegetable shortening or unsalted butter. They are prepared in many shapes and sizes, with a great range of fillings that includes chicken, pork, beef, turkey, mole colorado, mushrooms, chile strips, cheese, shrimp, shark, pineapple, coconut, guavas and many more, and they are wrapped in corn husks and banana leaves.
Ingredients for the Filling:
Instructions for the Filling:
Rinsed in cold water the chicken legs, chicken breasts and pork loin, then place them in a large stockpot with enough water to cover all the meat. Add garlic head, 2 bay leaves and onion cut in half. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to medium. A build-up of cooked blood and liquid fat will appear on the surface – spoon it out and cover pot. Add salt to taste and more water if necessary. Remove chicken when it is done (about ½ hour cooking time) and finish cooking pork loin (about 1½ hours cooking time). Remove pork to cool down. With you fingers, shred chicken and pork loin and mix together.
Take out seeds and veins of California and guajillo peppers and toast them in a large, dry frying pan over medium heat 4 to 5 minutes, tossing often to prevent burning, until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl, and rinse in water, then place them in a saucepan and set aside. In the same frying pan, toast garlic cloves, whole cloves, whole black peppers and sesame seeds tossing frequently – add these ingredients to the chiles in saucepan. Next, peel the tomatillos, rinsed them in water and add them with the tomato and ¼ onion to the chiles in saucepan. Fill saucepan with chicken/pork broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes adding more broth as needed.
Place ? of the chile mixture at a time in a blender or food processor with the fresh masa and process at high speed for two minutes and transfer to a large bowl. Repeat until all chile mixture has been processed.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Strain chile mixture and add to saucepan. Cook at medium heat for 20 minutes and stir frequently. If too thick, add more broth. If too thin, add more fresh masa dissolved in broth. Add shredded chicken and pork and continue simmering for 5 additional minutes. Add salt to taste and allow chicken/pork loin mole filling to cool down.
Ingredients for the Dough:
Place fresh masa or prepared masa harina in a large bowl (set aside 1 cup of fresh masa to thicken the filling). Add water or chicken broth gradually and knead until smooth and no longer sticky. Add baking powder, cornstarch and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the lard, vegetable shortening or butter with an electric mixer or by hand until it is fluffy (between 5 to 8 minutes). Work the lard (vegetable shortening or butter) into the masa gradually, kneading thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and stiff. (You may also do this in a food processor with a kneading attachment). Test to see if the dough is light enough by dropping a bit into a glass of cold water. If it floats, it is light enough; if not, continue kneading.
Assemble the Tamales:
Take one large presoaked corn husk and lay it flat. Spread a large tablespoonful of dough lengthwise over the center of the corn husk, leaving bare husk at the top, bottom and sides for wrapping. Spread a spoonful of filling over the dough. Fold both sides of the corn husk inward, lengthwise, so that they overlap. Fold the narrower end of the corn husk down towards the center, and fold the wider end upward so that the two overlap, closing the tamal into a little bag. Tie the tamal shut with a strip of corn husk or string.
Steam the Tamales:
Fill the bottom of a steamer (a large vegetable steamer is perfect) with water, dropping in a clean coin (it will rattle if the steamer goes dry). Line the bottom of the steamer with corn husks. Place the tamales in the steamer upright, packing them in somewhat firmly but allowing room for the dough to swell as the tamales cook. Cover with a layer of corn husks, then with a clean cloth to absorb condensed moisture from the lid of the steamer. It is important that the tamales are exposed only to steam heat, not to direct moisture. Water will make them soggy, and steam cooking will make them spongy and light. If water boils away during the cooking process, add more boiling water. Keep the steamer lid on tight. Steam the tamales for about an hour. To test for doneness, remove one and check to see if the dough comes away from the husk easily. If so, they are done. Makes approximately 50 tamales.
*Ingredients available at most supermarkets.
Tamales are excellent reheated on a griddle, in the oven or microwave. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and also freeze well.