Being a partisan of the tamale, I've had big ambitions about making them for some time. But I've been warned. A student of mine, who is from El Paso, told me that it was simply impossible to make a tamale following a recipe. If I couldn't learn from my grandmother, forget it. (This would limit me to roast chicken, brisket, and chopped liver, so I sallied forth).

Other friends of mine who grew up watching their mothers or grandmothers make them warned me that it was going to be a long process and a lot of work. They weren't kidding about that.

A man can work up a powerful thirst making tamales. Fortunately, there is a Mexican remedy for that.

I was most recently reinvigorated to make tamales after we ventured to a supposedly famous tamale joint in the Mission in San Francisco at the end of December. This is a place making tamales since 1904. Good name (I don't know if TR ate there, but perhaps) and a cool sign...

...but the tamales were not good. The sign can't make up for a bad tamale. I thought the problem was that the masa was far too dense. And they were expensive (nine bucks for one (1) tamale, rice, and beans!) I've had infinitely superior tamales in North Carolina, and of course superb tamales in Texas, and then there is that tamale shop in Mexico City that Skye still talks about where that could make you weep they were so good. So to find such a weak offering in the Mission...that is a concern.

So we'll make better ones ourselves. With the frigid weather keeping us indoors, we set aside some time to make tamales. I thought we would be eating at maybe 7 or 7:30. We sat down at midnight. But the labor and wait was worth it.

We made traditional red chile pork tamales. The meat was the easiest part.

The sauce had a lot of steps but was pretty easy to make actually. Not too hot, but a bit of a kick. from this

to this, in 10 easy steps

It was the masa that was the killer. It didn't help that the mixer we have is a classic old 1950s era mixer that is, to put it rather directly, a piece of useless shite, so we were mixing this all by hand. The books all mention that this was the old and slow and labor intensive way of doing it. Yup.

Lots of this, hours of this.

It is all about getting your choice of fat properly whipped and integrated into the masa. What you are trying to get is for a ball of the masa to float in water. It sounds insane to try to float dough and I can confirm that it seems impossible. Ours never floated. We finally made the executive decision not to worry if the masa ended up being too dense. It wasn't, thankfully. (Once source we consulted said you can never get masa to float if made with masa flour.)

I am determined to get it to float at some time.

The assembly is actually pretty easy. Nothing made it to the floor.

Skye and her first tamale:

I can't explain why it looks like I'm missing tooth in this photo of me with my first tamale...

Ready to cook:

midnight dinner!

As soon as this batch was done it seemed essential to make more without delay Next week--chicken tomatilla tamales! And a new mixer!


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