Twelfth Day of Christmas Tamales

When I lived in California, my Mexican friends and neighbors would bring tamales around Christmas time. It had been more than 15 years since I ate tamales, so last year I rekindled the tradition among my Latin friends here in the Northeast.  This was my second year making and delivering Christmas tamales on the Twelfth Day of Christmas; January 6th; which was the day when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus.  Last year’s initial recipe problems have been solved and my rolling technique has greatly improved. The tamales came out good, 3-1/2 star, but not great. I’ve described the problem and solution below, which will hopefully allow me to reach 4-stars next year.

Rekindling the Christmas tamales tradition for my Latin friends

Comments / Issues.

  1. Actually, the 3-1/2 stars rating is overly simplistic. I made tostadas with the left-over pork filling, which was 5-star out-of-the-ball-park grand slam. Just as good or better than Chris Kimball’s 5-star Tinga. The problem was entirely based upon the 2-star dough (see next issue).
  2. The dough of some (but not all) tamales was too dry. I asked my only local Mexican friend, but she doesn’t make tamales. I think the problem was two fold. (1) the raw dough needed a little more water. Because it was only a little on the dry side, the variation within the masa and amount of pork filling meant some tamales were good and others were dry. (2) The masa I put in was too thick in comparison to the amount of pork filling. Next time I will apply just a thin coating of dough to each corn husk, and increase the amount of filling in each.
  3. Last year, I had an issue with too much salt. I altered the recipe before publishing it last year, but reduced the salt again as I tasted during cooking.
  4. The spices for the filling are based upon a 4-lb boneless or 6-lb bone-in pork roast. Adjust the seasoning based upon your roast size.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $14 for 3 dozen.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 11:00 AM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Tamales Filling:
4 pound boneless pork shoulder
2 onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon salt
6 springs of thyme
Half package of dried corn husks

Filling Paste:
1/2 cup corn oil
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper.

Tamales Dough (Masa):
9 cups masa harina (2 lbs 4-3/4 oz)
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1-1/2 tablespoon cumin
2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening)
7 cups quarts of the pork broth (from filling recipe)
2 cups chicken stock

  1. Six hours before dinner, take your dried corn husks out of the package and put them in a large Pyrex casserole dish filled with hot tap water. This will soften them so they are pliable enough to be easily folded. Put dinner plates of top to submerge the husks and soak for 3 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, cut pork roast into large fist-sized chunks (along the lines of fat, where possible). Fill a large pot with 9 cups of water, adding the other ingredients listed under the Tamale Filling. Boil for 2 to 2-1/2 hours until meat is tender. Remove the pork and allow to cool in medium/large mixing bowl for 10 minutes, reserving the pork broth for later. Use two forks to shred the pork, after about 10 more minutes the pork will become cool enough to finish shredding with your fingers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to prevent the meat from drying out.
  3. Mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl, and add to the shredded pork. Mix until incorporated, and allow to marinade until ready to assemble the tamales.
  4. In a separate large bowl, add 9 cups masa flour and all spices. Use a wooden spoon to mix.
  5. Add 2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening) to masa and 9 cups pork/chicken broth (1 cup at a time), mixing well after every cup.  It should be the consistency of peanut butter.
  6. Shake the excess water off the corn husks. Separate and place them on a wire rack to allow them to slightly dry.
  7. Lay the husk flat and spread about 3-1/4 oz masa in a rectangle in the center of the husk to about 1/4″ thickness. Put as much shredded pork in the middle of the masa will fit; for better flavor. Work dough into a cylindrical shape, with the dough on the outside and the filling is on the inside. Fold and roll your tamale, and place in steamer basket so that gravity will hold the seam closed. Here are some more hints on rolling.
  8. Fill the pot with water; being careful that the water level is below the bottom of steamer basket. I used a colander fitted inside my Dutch oven, and also use crumbled foil as “feet” to elevate your collapsible steamer.
  9. Cover your steamer and bring the water up to a boil. Then turn down the heat down (but maintaining a boil) and steam for about 2 hours. Check the water level and add approximately 2 cups water every 30 minutes, so that the pot doesn’t boil dry. The tamales will be done when the masa is firm and easily pulls away from the husks, also try tasting a bit of the masa.
  10. Preparation time is 6 hours. Makes 36 tamales, and use the remaining filling to make tostadas.

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