Food: It’s not Christmas without tamales
Latin-American tradition is a corn-husk-wrapped treat
first tamale I ever ate was a divine pleasure.
Unwrap the cornhusk and the aroma is a pleasant combination of sweet and
spicy. Inside the husk is a light spongy masa filled with steaming hot
have eaten tamales of every shape and flavor, in styles from all around
Latin America. Whether wrapped in dried corn husks, avocado or banana
leaves, filled with chicken, pork, or chocolate, this traditional
Christmas treat sends families to either buy the tamales in bulk or
mass-produce them in assembly-line fashion in their kitchens or church
During the holiday season, José Rodriguez estimates he will sell
hundreds of tamales, advertised by a simple hand-written sign on the
door of his restaurant “hay tamales.”
wife Patricia is busy most days this month soaking cornhusks, beating
the masa and making the pork filling. At their restaurant El Mexicano Jr
on Wilson Street in Manchester, the Rodriguez’s sell two kinds of
tamales: pork with red sauce and pork with a green tomatillo sauce.
Each tamale costs $1.25, a steal considering all the labor involved.
First, it is important to use the right masa. It seems everyone has a
favorite. For the sake of speed, Rodriguez uses an instant masa that
takes only 30 minutes to mix, rather than several hours.
Fresh tamale masa is available at Latino markets, such as I & P across
the street from Rodriguez’s restaurant. Tamale masa is finer than
tortilla masa because it’s ground three or four times, while tortilla
masa is ground only once. This is important to the finished product.
Before I arrived in the kitchen at El Mexicano Jr., Patricia had the
masa beating in an industrial size mixer with cornhusks soaking in water
basic assembly: prepare the masa, spread it on the cleaned and soaked
corn husks, add a heaping tablespoon of red pork chili, wrap and steam
them. It is labor-intensive and really works best with an assembly line
of friends or family each with a specific job to do.
Once completed, the tamales steam for approximately one hour. Anything
goes when it comes to the filling, but cooks experimenting with flavors
need to remember the intense steaming process. Seafood will get rubbery;
nuts such as pecans and walnuts will not hold up and for dessert tamales
less sugar is better. You will know your tamales are done when the masa
pulls cleanly away from the husk. If it doesn’t, simply re-wrap and let
the batch steam for a few more minutes.
way a tamale is wrapped is traditionally an indicator of the type of
tamale. Red pork chili tamales, the most common, use the fold-over
method with an open end and stand the tamales up right in the steamer.