Its the most wonderful time of the year….Tamale Season

Freshly steamed pork tamale with salsa verde

It’s hard to believe its November already and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. One of my favorite things about this time of year and into December is the abundance of tamales. Its not uncommon here in Southern California to be approached in a grocery store parking lot or along the streets by someone selling home-made tamales. I have no qualms about buying these tamales and hopefully soon the city of LA and all of LA County will make it easier for street vendors to get permitted and be able to vend legally.

If you ever had a chance to watch tamales being made by hand you know that its a labor intensive process. Which is why people tend to only make them once a year.  Its definitely something that requires some planning and prep and you can’t reasonably expect to be done in a couple of hours. Heck, just soaking the corn husks takes a couple of hours.

The first stage of making the tamales is to prepare the filling.I’m partial to pork filling with a nice tomatillo salsa. You’ll find my Chili Verde recipe here. Its important to save the cooking liquid from the pork but strain the solids out and season it well with salt. You’ll want to use this as the broth for your masa.To make my filling,  I shred the pork from the Chile verde and then add chicharrone molido (cooked pork belly that’s been ground) and my green salsa and test for seasoning adding salt and pepper as needed then I set the filling aside while I prepare my corn husks and masa.

The masa is in my mind the most important part of the tamale. I blandly seasoned masa means bland boring tamales even if you have a really flavorful filling. So its really important to season your stock well and season your masa. The ratio for masa is 3 parts Maseca, 2 parts stock and 1 part fat, then a good amount of salt and 11/2 TBS baking powder. I prefer lard or bacon fat over shortening because I feel its more flavorful and since a tamale is only as good as its masa we want to take advantage of any opportunity to add flavor.  If you have a butcher or a really good Latin market, you should be able to buy unfiltered pork lard (aka manteca de cerdo).

Consequently, if you live near a really good Latin market you can also find pre-made masa for tamales. I feel no shame in using Northgate Gonzalez‘* prepared masa. Its well seasoned and consistent and no matter how you may try homemade masa isn’t. Northgate sells masa by the pound so you need to have an idea of how many tamales you hope to make and the size. The downside is that its definitely more expensive to buy the pre-made. It’s on sale this time of year and I think I paid $.99 per pound. You can buy a 5lbs bag of maseca for a couple of bucks and you can use it for other things.

Here’s what you need for tamales

  • Masa
  • chile verde filling
  • corn husks or foil to wrap tamales (if you use corn husks you’ll need to soak them in hot water for about 90minutes to soften them up so they’re easier to work with
  • A large deep pot with a lid so you can steam the tamales

Here’s a video to show you how to make masa followed by another video demonstrating how to fill, roll and tie the tamales.

And remember the next time your tia, abuela or co-worker is sharing their tamales know that a lot of time, love and work went into them.

*Northgate also sells sweet masa for sweet tamales as well as Guatemalan style masa. I’m partial to the Anaheim Northgate off of Lincoln and State College. Its huge and I can do all my shopping there as well as finding Latin Caribe spices and brands i.e. Goya.

Editorial comment. I receive no compensation from Northgate…but I love them

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