Minervaland's Tamal How-To
Making tamales can be either a long, monotonous solo session filled with corn husks, masa, filling, and beer or it can be an out-of-control party. Those solo tamales might be neater, but there is some serious fun in teaching a bunch of newbies the pleasures of tamal making, even if the results are a bit mixed. Read up to get ready to throw your own tamal-making party.
Evie Carpenter Tamales for days -- literally.
First, the grammar lesson: The singular form of the word is tamal -- not tamale. This is grammatically incorrect and cheating at Scrabble -- with the plural being tamales.
Evie Carpenter A demonstration of proper tamal-making technique.
Tamal masa is an entirely different being from tortilla masa -- lighter and with far more moisture and able to be easily spread on a reconstituted corn husk with a spoon. The key to this dough is in the whipped lard base, and a bit of stock or broth. Don't be scared at the mention of lard -- not much is needed to achieve a perfectly fluffy dough, with a ratio of one part lard to four parts masa being ideal.
When buying tamal masa, do be aware there is a difference between tortilla masa, prepared tamal masa, and unprepared tamal masa. Buy unprepared tamal masa, looking for one made with finely ground corn. My favorite local sources for masa are La Sonorense or any of the various Pro's Ranch Market locations, but also try any of the many fantastic neighborhood Mexican bakeries around town. Do yourself a favor and skip the masa spreader tools littering grocery stores; my great-grandma needed nothing more than a large spoon to get a nice layer of masa on a corn husk and neither do you.
Don't go cheap when buying corn husks. That cheap package of corn husks is going to pricey when it comes to patience, as the cheaper they are, the smaller the leaves, requiring layering two or more leaves to make a tamal of a decent size. Buy the $9 bag of husks, you cheapskate. Give them a good rinse in cold water to remove dirt, then submerge in hot water until they are completely pliable. Remove them from the water and give them a good shake to dry. It is best to use any husks that have been reconstituted at that time, as they can develop an unappealing smell.
To assemble the tamal, place a large corn husk in your hand and cover about two-thirds of the upper half of the husk with an even layer of masa, no more than quarter-inch thick. Place the filling in the middle of the dough, and fold the edge covered in masa over it, covering the filling completely with masa. This will prevent the filling from drying out during the cooking process. Continue folding the husk horizontally to form a flattened tube, and finish by folding the pointed end up from the edge of the masa. Get comfortable while doing this, you may be here a while. A six-pack of cold Tecate doesn't hurt.