Tamales nortenos (part 1)

Yield: 6 Servings

Measure Ingredient
1 pack Dried corn husks
4 cups Masa harina
4 cups Lukewarm water
4 teaspoons Wyler's granulated chicken boullion
2 teaspoons Baking powder
2 teaspoons Salt
1½ cup Lard or vegetable shortening
2 ounces Ancho chile; dried
2 ounces Pasilla chile; dried
2 ounces Guajilla chile; dried
2 ounces New Mexican red chile; dried
1½ pounds Pork shoulder or beef shoulder roast
½ large Onion; sliced
5 \N Cloves garlic; peeled & smashed
2 teaspoons Salt
10 \N Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
4 tablespoons Ground chile seasoning
4 tablespoons Lard or vegetable shortening




For a version of this recipe complete with step-by-step pictorial instructions, visit the Mexican page on my Home Cookin' website: .

There are several different styles of tamales. Tamales from central Mexico are thick and fluffy and are mostly dough. Many commercially made tamales in the United States are similar. I have found tamales in Colorado restaurants fit this description. This recipe is for homemade tamales as prepared in Northern Mexico and is typical of the tamales made in Texas.

They are thin, about the thickness of a very fat finger, and about 2½ inches long. There is a high ratio of the strongly chile and cumin flavored filling to the dough.

These are the kind of tamales I grew up on. I fondly remember living in San Antonio where every small Mexican grocery had a steamer full of homemade tamales on the counter. My parents would stop and pick up a dozen and pass a couple of the steaming hot tamales to my brother and I in the backseat. A few years ago while living in Denver I was frustrated with the tasteless, doughy mass that passes for a tamale there and became determined to learn to make my own.

The subject of making tamales comes up frequently on food-related mailing lists and newsgroups. The process is difficult to explain verbally. Now, with the magic of the internet I can share the secret of homemade tamales pictorially. Making tamales is a time-consuming, labor-intensive effort but don't be discouraged. With a little practice you can turn out professional looking homemade tamales and you won't regret it. Just pick an afternoon to devote to tamale making and give it a try. Tamales freeze well and can either be reheated in the microwave or by steaming.

The Corn Husks: The dried husks are brittle and must be soaked in water to soften them before they can be rolled into tamales. In the package, the husks for a whole ear of corn are usually pressed together. Separate the individual husks being careful not to break them, since they are fragile when dry.

Place the separated husks in a large pot and cover with hot water. Leave them to soak for about one hour. You can put a plate with a heavy object on it on top of the tamales to keep them submerged. When soft, rinse the husks well and put back into a pot of clean water.

The Filling: While the husks are soaking, prepare the meat filling. The chile used to season tamales is the ancho. The ancho is the ripened, dried form of the poblano. It has a rich, smoky flavor. While other dried chiles can be used for seasoning, the ancho provides an authentic flavor. I like to use a combination of chiles for seasoning tamales.

Toast the dried chiles on a hot cast-iron griddle for a few minutes on each side. Be careful not to burn the chiles or they will have a bitter taste.

As the chiles toast, they will become soft and pliable and may puff up. Put aside to cool. The chiles will become very crisp and brittle when cooled.

When cool, remove the seeds and stems and crumble into small pieces. Put the pieces into a coffee mill or spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Store the ground chile mix in a jar to use for seasoning other Mexican dishes.

You can use a variety of meats for making tamales. I use either beef or chicken, but pork is traditional. I also use vegetable shortening, although again, lard is traditionally used in Mexico. Cut the meat into 1" to 2" chunks. Heat the lard or shortening in a heavy bottomed pot and brown the meat. When brown, add enough water to cover the meat and add the onions and garlic. Simmer until the meat is fork tender and flakes apart. For beef shoulder roast this will take about 2 - 3 hours.

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