Monday, August 3, 2009

A case for the frozen dinner

Say it with me now: "Lazy dinner." I am not a big fan of frozen dinners, but I am fond of frozen tamales. Steaming them is so effortless after a long day. Having never made them by hand, this seemed the only at-home option for a tamale dinner.

Last weekend, in my summer heat-induced daze, I decided to make tamales for lunch. As a first timer, I did a bit of research. To my dismay, every website had a different recipe. Some were for a freezer-full of tamales, some for a dozen. Some listed steam time as short as 15 minutes, some as long as two hours. How to choose...

I finally came across a recipe that said it plain and clear:
Soak the corn husks in warm water for at least 30 minutes (or overnight in room temp water).
Start with your Masa flour (an enriched corn flour). For every 2 cups masa, add your preferred spices, 1/2 cup fat (i.e. lard, shortening, or oil), 1/2 tsp salt, and enough broth to reach your desired consistency. (I used around 1 1/2 cups chicken broth.) From what I read, this means the dough is spreadable - like peanut butter. Typically the spices included are chili, cumin, sometimes garlic powder or paprika. This initial batch was enough for me to make 8 tamales.

I was getting very hungry.

I did a vegetarian filling, mostly because it was too time consuming and hot to roast chicken/pork/beef. I used cheddar and sautéed onions, garlic, and peppers (green bell and jalapeno).
Spread the masa dough thinly over 2/3 of the husk, leaving a few inches at the narrow end. Put a couple tablespoons of your filling/s in the middle of the masa dough. Roll the filled husk so your masa forms a sealed tube with the remaining husk overlapping. Fold the narrow end up to seal the bottom. Repeat until you have used all your masa and fillings. With the folded end down, place the tamales in a steamer and steam until they separate from the husk when peeled back. For me, this was 20 minutes.

At this point, my kitchen was getting warm. The fans were blowing. I ate quickly. The tamales turned out well, though they needed a bit more broth and a milder cheese. I will try again, on a cooler day. I will roast a chicken the night before and use the reserved broth. I will set aside more time. And if I don't feel like it, that's okay. The frozen ones taste almost as good.

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