VIDEO: Wrap Up These Tamales For A Christmas Eve Feast
For many Latinos, the taste of Christmas Eve is a delicious gift of corn masa and filling wrapped up in aromatic leaves: tamales.
From Mexico to Puerto Rico, Venezuela to Cuba and beyond, Latin America and the Caribbean have hundreds of interpretations of the tamal. Some are savory, some sweet, some are filled with chicken, beef or pork, others with cheese or vegetables. Whatever the variety, tamales are a favorite for important holidays.
In part, that's because they're labor-intensive — one reason why tamale-making can be quite intimidating for the newbie. It's also why making tamales at home can be a social event in its own right. In traditional tamaladas, friends and family gather to assemble dozens or even hundreds of little masa bundles to enjoy and share with others. Often, it's a multi-generational affair, with grandmothers and mothers passing down techniques and recipes.
If you don't have a tamale-master grandma in the family, don't despair. For help, we turned to Mexican chef Pati Jinich, host of Pati's Mexican Table on PBS. In the video above, she demystifies the basics of tamale-making and shows us how to make her favorite kind — chicken tamales in green salsa. For merrier results, we recommend tackling this recipe with the help of loved ones.
Chicken In Salsa Verde Tamales (Tamales de Pollo con Salsa Verde)
From Pati Jinich
The easiest way to make tamales is to prepare your filling(s) first. In fact you can make it a day or two in advance. For the ones I feature here, make your cooked salsa verde, pictured in the molcajete below. Combine it with cooked shredded chicken to make a wet mix. No, you don't want it dry! The tamal masa will soak up some of that salsa. After the tamales cook for almost an hour, you want to bite into a tamal that has a saucy, moist filling.
Then get your hands on dried corn husks, pictured below. You can get them in the Latin aisles of your supermarket, at many a Latin or international store, or online. No excuse. Soak those husks in warm water, so they will become malleable and pliable. You don't want them to crack as you use them to wrap the dough and roll the tamal. You will also need to place some of the leaves in the tamalera or steamer.
Get the tamalera ready. Pour water and drop a coin in there. That's a passed down trick from endless generations. It works as an alarm for when the tamales may be running out of water, so you won't need to open up the pot and let all that precious steam come out: if the water is running out, the coin will start jumping up and down and make loud clinking noises.
The most important thing about the masa, aside from being well seasoned, is that it needs to be as fluffy as fluffy can get. It has to be so airy that, if you take a cup of cold water and drop half a teaspoon of the masa in it, it floats! You can only achieve this by beating it for a long time at a good speed. That's why I recommend a mixer in the recipe below, but of course, you are welcome to get a good work out from the masa mixing by hand or with a sturdy spatula.
Then, follow my detailed instructions below on how to fill and wrap the tamales, place them in the tamalera and hold your horses for 50 minutes until they are ready.
Hopefully, you make more than what you need. I can think of few foods that have as much warmth, sustenance and meaning than tamales. They are food that is meant to be shared. So I suggest you try a tamalada gathering!
Make many fillings ahead of time. Make your masa. Invite friends over and have a tamal-making party before the Tamalada. Everyone will have gifts to open and eat, as that is what tamales are, indeed. And the best gift of them all will be any leftover tamales that a lucky guest gets to take along. Or be a bit greedy, keep them at home.
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