Tamale New Year!

As usual, whenever I go back to the Bay Area to see family and friends I come back with my belly full and more recipes to share with all of you.  So basically, everybody wins. This time was no exception.  Thanks to Matt aka Dumpling King who came up with the idea and my sis, Cheryl aka, La Reina de Las Empanadas Gigantes who along with Cam, Maia and Dylan kindly hosted the event, we spent new year’s eve 2008 celebrating my 36 years (WTF!) on Earth and making and eating the most traditional of Chinese foods: tamales.

Just kidding – though joong or zhongzi are often called Chinese tamales.  As you all probably know, the tamale is one of the most American of foods probably having roots in the food of pre-Columbian America.  You can find tamales in the streets of San Francisco, Guadalajara, San Salvador,  and other cities in Central and South America.

For our new year’s tamale blow out, we focused on the Mexican tamale which consists basically of a savory filling enclosed in masa (fluffy corn meal/dough) wrapped in a corn husk and cooked. We decided to make three types of tamales: 1.) Chile colorado w/ pork   2.) Chile verde w/ chicken   3.) Veggie – roasted poblano chiles, corn, cactus and monterey jack cheese.  Sanj represented with a sweet tamale (the recipe of which I don’t know – but they were delicious) and his own banana leaf wrappers that he brought from his parents house in LA! The night before the tamale feast, Matt, Cheryl and I went to one of the best grocery stores ever, Mi Pueblo, which is an all purpose Mexican grocery store in Oakland which has everything you could possibly want in the way of produce, meats, salsas, cheeses and special Latin American ingredients.  Plus they have an in house tortilla machine that churns out piles of fresh warm tortillas and a taqueria where you can order tacos and tortas to you hearts delight.  It’s basically like a Mexican  version of 99 Ranch.  Here’s what we picked up at the market: two big bags of pre-mixed masa (corn meal alread mixed with water and lard – mmm lard!), two rotisserie chickens, dried guajillo chiles (for the pork), tomatillos (for the salsa verde) poblano chiles (for the veggie and salsa verde), jalapeños, pork leg (a leaner cut than pork shoulder – it was on sale special for tamales), and a bunch of chips and a bunch of salsa for munching.

Before you proceed to the recipe’s, please enjoy this short poor quality video which will give you a little taste of New Year’s Eve 2008 Tamale night.


Alright, here’s the basic recipe for the chile colorado con pork.  It’s loosely adapted from Rick Bayless‘ recipe because Matt had one of his books. The rest I kind of improvise to taste.  Here it is. Sorry no video. The quantities are approximate.  If you want to use more, use more.  If you want to use less – oh you get it.  I’ll say this though, it’s better to have more chiles than less because that’s where the flavor and sauce is coming from and really, you can never have too much flavorful sauce – and I mean that in the most wholesome way.

3-4 lbs of pork leg (could use pork butt – which has more fat)
2 bags (maybe 1 1/2 lbs) dried guajillo chiles
4-6 cloves of garlic
1-2 tbspn of salt
2-3 tbspn of white vinegar

What to do:
Again, this is from memory, so use what you can and improvise or do whatever makes sense to you.
1.  Cut up the pork into chunks or cubes of about one square inch and put the meat in a mixing bowl. You don’t have to do this but I like to marinate the pork with salt, cumin, oregano and a little bit of vinegar.  Just add the enough spices to lightly coat the meat.  Let the meat soak up the spices in the fridge
2.  Take the stems off the dried guallijos and shake the seeds out.  Then tear the chiles into small pieces or strips.
3.  Soak the guajillo pieces in about 2-3 cups of hot water for about 10-15 minutes.
4.  Pour the chiles and the hot water into a blender of food processor.  Add the garlic, the cumin, salt and garlic.  Blend or process until you get a nice rich, thick and red liquid.  Go ahead and taste it.  It should be kind of smoky (having that slow heat) and deep chile flavor.  If you like it a little acidic, add some vinegar to taste. This is your delicious chile sauce. Easy right?
5.  Strain the sauce by pouring it out of the blender or food processer and into a pot via a strainer.  Using a wooden spoon or spatula press the liquid through so that if flows or drips down into the pot.  Your strainer will retain the bits of chile skin.  You might want to pour a little water through strainer so you rinse all the chile sauce from the bits of skin. At the end of this process your chile sauce should be smooth and velvety.
6.  Put the pork meat into the pot with the sauce and simmer that meat for a couple hours or until that meat become fall apart tender.

Chunks of pork leg simmering in a red chile sauce

7.  Shred the meat with a couple forks and let it continue to simmer for another half an hour so the meat fully soaks up the chile flavor.  Let it get to room temperature.  This is your tamale pork.

Porks been cooking in the sauce and shredded with a fork

Chile Verde Chicken
As usual, ingredient amounts are approximate. Also this is for a lot of filling.  If you’re making, use less.  Season to taste.

2 rotisserie chickens worth of shredded chicken (you can also roast or boil your own but this is way easier and quicker)
about 4 or 5 roasted poblano chiles thathave been peeled (you can remove the seeds, if you don’t want it to be too spicy)
2-3 roasted jalapeños (to reduce the heat, remove the seed – I like it spicy though, so I leave them in)
about 2 lbs of tomatillos – roasted before hand to make peeling them easier.
1 large onion
1/2  cup of cilantro
1-2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
Salt – to taste
Cumin – to taste

What to do:
1. Roast the poblanos, jalapeños, and tomatillos in the broiler or individually over an open flame.  You can check out the basic technique for this on the hummus page.
2.  Peel the tomatillos the chiles and seed them if you want (leave them in if you want it nice and spicy).
3.  Throw chiles, tomatillos, onion, cilantro, spices and broth into a blender or food processor and blend/process it al until you get a nice green sauce.

tomatillos, jalapeños, onions, garlic, poblanos, salt and a food processor

4.  Pour the sauce into a pot and simmer it for half an hour to an hour so the flavors all mingle and get deeper. This is your chile verde.

Chile Verde sauce after it's been cooking for about an hour

5.  Pour the sauce over your shredded chicken or add the shredded chicken to the sauce. Let it get to room temperature.

Veggie Filling
You can use whatever you want as far as this goes. This is what we used.

Roasted Poblanos
Monterey jack cheese

What to do:

Just stir fry all the vegetables together and season with salt, pepper to taste.  Add the cheese when you’re makin the tamale.

Tamale Making.

Chile verde chicken, chile colorado pork and masa waiting to become tamales

1.  Soak the corn husks in warm water beforehand for about an hour.
2.  Spread a layer of masa over the flattened corn husk (check out the vid above for an example).  Spread it out all the way to the sides and up to about half an inch from the top and about 2-3 inches from the bottom.  The bottom is the part of the husk that narrows to a point.  You want to leave that masa free because that’s the part you’ll be folding over.
3.  Put your filling in at the center of the masa.  Don’t spread it all over the masa because you’re going to end up with a mess when you fold the husk back,

putting the pork in pork tamale

4.  Fold the sides of the corn husk one over the other and then fold the bottom over the two sides.  You should have a tamale where the top is open and the bottom is enclosed.  Tie the a string over the bottom to keep the tamale from unfolding.

the manufacturing process in action

5.  Steam the tamales for about 15 to 20 minutes.
6.  Proceed gorging yourself with delicious tamales.

Buen Provecho!

Pork and Chicken


One thought on “Tamale New Year!

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