Last night I had a little Tamale Party with friends Jane, Jimmy and Steve to celebrate Jane’s and Jimmy’s Month of Anniversary. The event stemmed from a recent walk in Wales, wherein I expressed to Jane and Jimmy my desire to further my tamale practice, and they offered themselves as willing taste testers and sous chefs.
There was a pretty steep learning curve here, and I admit our tamale rolling efforts weren’t exquisite (that may have been the numerous margaritas, white russians, negronis and long island iced teas talking). So this morning I woke up and had another sober attempt at rolling tamales, and things went pretty well, so I thought I’d share my notes and photos from the process in case it’s helpful to anyone else.
The recipe I used as a base is Rachel Demuth’s Tamales Rellenos de Calabacin from Demuths Cookery School which uses roast butternut squash and feta for the filling. I’ve written about this recipe before, but this time I made a few tweaks that I think improved matters considerably. I added roasted red pepper and sweetcorn to mine – the corn really made it for me. Instead of feta, I did some tamales with queso fresco, and others with goats cheese. The queso fresco offered a nice melty chewy cheesy hit, but I think I preferred the salty creaminess of the goats cheese tamales.
Big learning points were: make sure that the batter is pretty soft – you should be able to smear it across the husk with a spoon; also, spread the batter in one corner of the husk – this makes rolling the tamale a no-brainer (this video was very helpful in this regard).
My tamale technique still needs practice and I’d love to experiment with other fillings, so hopefully my amazing sous chefs will return for more tamale rolling and taste testing, and requisite margarita drinking which, let’s face it, makes even the most poorly rolled tamale taste like a dream!
Squash and Sweetcorn Tamales
I recommend serving these with mole poblano sauce, but you could also do any kind of salsa, red or green, or a creamy verde sauce.
Makes about 10 tamales.
- 20 large fresh or dried sweetcorn husks
For the masa
- 200g masa harina
- 50g butter, softened
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 50mls milk
- 100mls vegetable stock
For the filling
- 100g queso fresco, goats cheese, feta or other cheese of choice
- 1 small butternut squash (or another variety if available)
- corn kernels from 1 ear of corn
- 2 red peppers
- 1 chopped fresh red chilli
- 4 cloves garlic, whole with the skin on
- A few sprigs of thyme
- Chopped coriander
- Juice of half a lime
- Olive oil
- Roast the squash and red peppers in a hot oven (180/gas mark 7) with the garlic, chilli, thyme, and olive oil until it is soft-this should take 30-40 minutes. When cooked remove the garlic from its skin and pound in a pestle and mortar and then stir back through the squash. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir through some chopped coriander and lime juice. Add the corn and crumble in the cheese (or if using a very soft cheese like goats cheese, keep it separate until you are filling the tamales).
- To prepare the sweet corn husks, if fresh, carefully peel the husks off the cobs and place in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 5minutes, drain and leave to cool. If using dried husks soak them in hot water for 30minutes. When they are soft rinse them under running water as you separate them. Lay them flat on a plate and keep them covered with a damp cloth.
- To prepare the masa, combine the masa harina with the salt and baking powder. Add the butter in chunks and crumble it through with your hands until it reaches the consistency of breadcrumbs (much like making scones).
- Add the milk and stock and mix with your hands until combined and you have a soft dough. Add a bit more milk until it becomes easily spreadable (slightly softer than the consistency of scone dough).
- To assemble a tamale, take on corn husk and place it on the table. Put a heaped spoonful of batter in one corner of the husk and spread it out into a long rectangle with two sides running along the edge of the husk (see picture below).
- Take a spoonful of the filling and spread it out down the middle of the masa. Roll the tamale as you would a burrito, starting with the end where the masa is flush with the side of the corn husk, rolling over so that the edges of the masa meet, folding up the bottom corner of the tamale, and then finishing the roll.
- Steam the tamales in a vegetables steamer. Cover the bottom of the steamer with some left over husks, place the tamales standing upright and fill the spaces between them with wads of silver foil. Cover the top with a lid or cover with silver foil. Steam for 45- 60 minutes. You can tell when they are done because the masa will be soft and sponge like.
- Serve them as soon as possible, before the masa becomes stodgy.