Growing up in South Texas means an inundation of Mexican food, all.the.time. I can't even begin to say how many times I've heard friends that moved North talk about how they miss Mexican food, and that the few places they come across are just sorry excuses for the real thing. Granted, a lot of people call it Tex-Mex, and I couldn't say otherwise because I've never eaten authentic Mexican food in Mexico...but whatever it is, we Texans adore it. Tamales are one of the (supposed) authentic dishes that little Mexican mamas make by the many, many dozens around holiday time and sell to all of the white folk who can't seem to master the technique.
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but my mom makes the best Mexican food (aside from Granny, of course) that I've ever eaten - and she's a white lady! My step-dad, who is Hispanic and whose parents are from Mexico and make it all "authentic", has even said that he prefers my mom's food. That's saying something! Anyhow...I have not yet followed in the family footsteps in regards to this ethnic cuisine, but I have made it a part of my 12 in '12 list to learn a few dishes this year. My mom has been making tamales for a few years now and she's pretty stinkin' good at it, so I added it to my list. Her beef enchiladas, however, are the creme de la creme, in my opinion. So much so that I won't eat beef enchiladas anwhere else but home. Those are also on my list to learn, but that comes later.
For now...Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year! How perefect is that for me?? I was very excited to take this on, but will admit that I didn't have high expectations for my first attempt. I guess it's a fortunate thing for me that I'm a stickler for following exact directions when attempting something completely new to me, and therefore I did not wind up with a complete disaster on my hands. The filling was absolutely delicious, but the dough was a teensy bit dry after steaming. I chock it up to needing a bit more broth in the initial mixing stage. Lesson learned, but still edible ;) I will definitely be making these again, and experimenting with additional fillings as well. Maybe next year I can join my mom in making a few dozen :)
1 pound tomatillos (can sub mild green chilies – canned or fresh)
4 – 3 inch serrano chiles, stemmed and chopped (can sub jalapeno)
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 cups cooked and shredded chicken
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (also known as coriander)
For the masa dough:
1 1/3 cups lard or vegetable shortening
1 ½ teaspoons salt (omit if already in masa mixture)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (omit if already in masa mixture)
4 cups masa harina (corn tortilla mix)
1 ½-2 cups low sodium chicken broth
Place the dried corn husks in a large pot and cover with water.
Place a heavy plate or a smaller pot full of water on top of husks to keep them in the water. Let soak for 3 hours or up to 1 day, flipping occasionally until husks are softened.
Once husks are softened, boil chicken about 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
Immediately place hot chicken into the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn mixer on high to shred chicken (this takes about 3-5 seconds).
Place an oven rack on the top setting. Turn the oven on broil. Peel and rinse the tomatillos.
Line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Place tomatillos on baking sheet and place under broiler.
Broil (grill) until black spots form on tomatillos, then flip and broil (grill) other side. This takes about 5-10 minutes per side depending on the strength of the broiler.
Place roasted tomatillos and juices from the pan into a food processor and allow to cool about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chopped Serrano chiles and process until smooth.
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.
Add the tomatillo puree and boil, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes (it should turn thick like a paste).
Add in the chicken broth, stir to mix well. Reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is reduced to about a cup.
Stir in the chicken and cilantro. Salt to taste.
Prepare the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium high heat, cream together the lard or vegetable shortening, baking powder and salt.
Mix in the masa harina, one cup add in 1 ½ cups of the chicken broth.
If the mixture seems too thick (you can taste it for moistness) add up to ½ cup more of the broth 2 tablespoons at a time. (The dough should be a cookie dough like texture).
Take 3 large corn husks and tear them into ¼ inch strips.
Take a large pot with a steamer attachment. Pour about 2 inches of water into the bottom of the pot, or enough to touch the bottom of the steamer. Line the bottom of the steamer with corn husks.
Unfold 2 corn husks onto a work surface. Take ¼ cup of dough and, starting near the top of the husk, press it out into a 4 inch square, leaving 2-3 inches at the bottom of the husk. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in a line down the center of the dough square.
Fold the dough into the corn husk and wrap the husk around the dough.
Fold up the skinny bottom part of the husk and secure it with one of the corn husk ties.
Stand them up in the steamer. If there aren’t enough tamales to tightly pack the steamer, place crumpled aluminum foil in the excess space.
Steam the tamales for about 40 minutes or until the dough deepens in color and easily pulls away from the husk.