Tamales ala Diana Kennedy

From: garhow@hpubmaa.esr.HP.COM (Garry Howard)
Date: 28 Oct 1993 14:54:25 GMT
From "The Cuisines of Mexico"
By Diana Kennedy ISBN 0-06-012344-3

This is the definitive book on authentic Mexican cooking. I highly
recommend it to anyone who want's to learn to cook Mexican food as it
is prepared in Mexico.

Notes on Making Tamales

1. The corn husks. It is usual for corn husks bought here to be
trimmed and flattened ready for use. But if by chance you have some in
their rough state, just as they were when removed from the ear, cut
off the cupped part at the bottom of the leaf and trim off the pointed
tip. When you get them the husks will be dried out and papery. To
soften them ready for use, pour plenty of very hot water over them and
leave them to soak for several hours. Shake them well to get rid of
excess water and pat them dry with a towel.

2. Making the tamales. Smear a thin coating of the tamal dough over
the broadest part of the husk, allowing for turning down about 1 1/2
inches at the bottom broad part of the leaf and about 3 inches at the
pointed top. Let us say, for a good-sized tamal spread the dough over
an area approximately 3 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches long.

   Spread the filling down the middle of the dough. Fold the sides of
the husk together firmly. Turn up the pointed end of the leaf and fold
the broader end over it. Tear some of the husks lengthwise into narrow
strips, and use one for tying each tamal across the top flap. The
husks are water repellent, and since the dough is to be steamed, the
idea is to form a water-tight package so that when the dough is cooked
through it will be light and spongy. If moisture gets in it will be

3. Cooking the tamales. The most convenient way to cook tamales is a
conventional steamer. You can, of course improvise, but improvisations
are not usually as efficient--a lot of good steam escapes and the
cooking is not as even.

   Fill the bottom of the steamer with water up to the level indicated
and bring to a boil. Line the top of the steamer with corn husks,
covering the bottom and sides well. Stack the tamales upright, with
the tied-down flaps upwards. For the best results, they should be
packed firmly but not too tightly, because the husks swell out as the
dough cooks. (I always find that a small batch of tamales, not firmly
packed in the steamer, do not cook as well or as quickly and are more
likely to absorb the condensed steam.)  Cover the tamales with more
corn husks. Cover the top of the steamer with a thick cloth--a piece
of old toweling is best--to absorb the condensation from the lid of
the steamer. Cover the steamer with a tightly fitting lid.

   As the water in the bottom part comes to a boil, put a coin into
it, put the top part of the steamer on, and let the tamales cook for
about 2 1/2 to 3 hours over a medium flame. Keep the water bubbling,
but not boiling violently. That is the reason for the coin. You will
be able to hear it dancing about, and it will tell you if the water
goes off the boil or is getting dangerously low. If the water is
allowed to go off the boil the tamales will be heavy. Keep a kettle of
water simmering so that you can refill the steamer when necessary.

   To test the tamales for doneness, remove one from the center, and
one from the side of the steamer. As you open the husks, the dough
should come away easily from the husks and be completely smooth. To
make doubly sure, open up the tamales and see if they are spongy and
well cooked throughout.

4. Serving and storing the tamales. Once cooked, tamales are very good
tempered. They are wonderful eaten right away, straight out of the
husks, but after they cool off they are also extremely good heated
through very gently in their husks in an ungreased heavy frying pan,
or on a griddle. Just keep turning them so that they heat through
evenly and the husk gets slightly browned but does not burn. They can
be refrigerated, and will keep well stored that way for about a
week. It is best, however, to freeze them. To reheat, they can be
wrapped in foil, put into a 350 degree oven still frozen, and heated
through for about 30 minutes.
     Title: Tamales Nortenos [Northern Tamales]
Categories: Mexican, Main dish
  Servings:  12
  1 1/4 lb Pork shoulder
    1/4    onion, sliced
      1    clove garlic, peeled
    1/2 ts salt
      4    peppercorns
           Water to cover
      3    chile anchos
    1/2 ts cumin seeds
      2 tb lard
--------------------------------THE TAMALES--------------------------------
           Basic Tamal Dough
      2 ts chili sauce
           -from the filling
     72    small corn husks
From: The Cuisines of Mexico
By: Diana Kennedy ISBN 0-06-012344-3

This recipe is from northern Mexico and I think it is closer to the
tamales made in Texas. Tamales from central Mexico are thick and
fluffy and are mostly dough. This is the original recipe as it would
be prepared in Mexico, including lard. Adjust as necessary to suit
your sensibilities. I substitute Crisco for the lard. I have also made
this recipe using chicken in place of the pork.


   The smallest tamales of all are the nortenos from Coahuila and
Chihuahua.  They are as thick as a very fat finger and about 2 1/2
inches long. The northerners express contempt for the large, fluffy
white ones of central Mexico, which to them are all dough and very
little else--which is true of the commercially made ones. The dough in
these is almost overcome by the filling of pork in a sauce of chiles
anchos strongly flavored with cumin.

   Cut the meat into 1-inch squares--it should have a little fat on
it--and put it into the saucepan with the onion, garlic, salt, and
peppercorns. Barely cover the meat with water and bring to a
boil. Lower the flame and simmer the meat until it is tender--about 40

   Set the meat aside to cool off in the broth. Strain the meat,
reserving the broth, and chop it roughly.
   Heat the griddle and toast the chiles well, turning them from time
to time so that they do not burn. Let them cool a little. When they
are cool enough to handle, slit them open and remove the seeds and
   When the chiles have cooled off they should be crisp. Crumble them
into the blender jar or spice grinder and grind them with the cumin
seeds to a fine powder.
   Melt the lard, add the chili powder, and cook it for a few seconds,
stirring it all the time. Add the meat and, continuing to cook, let it
season for a minute or so.
   Add the pork broth and let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes
over a medium flame so that it reduces a little--there should be quite
a bit of sauce left. Add salt as necessary.

Make the basic dough but do not add any baking powder. Mix the chili
sauce into the dough to give it a little color.

   Using the smallest husks or the large ones cut in half, spread a
scant tablespoon of the dough thinly over each husk, covering an area
about 2 X 2 inches. Put a little of the meat with plenty of sauce into
the center of the dough and fold the husk as you would for ordinary
   Stack the tamales in the steamer and cook for about 2 hours. Test
to see if they are done.