Tamales are a common and popular food in all Hispanic cultures. They're usually made with corn, but some recipes choose rice, chickpeas or a combination of both to create a dough, which is then filled with mixed or single meats, vegetables, and sometimes olives. Sweet versions of tamales feature cornflour mixed with sugar, spices, and raisins.
A succulent slow-roasted shredded beef fills these tamales, and although they're time-consuming, the reward of one of these tamales served with fresh pico de gallo and sliced avocado has no equal. Be patient, making tamales is easy once you get the hang of it. After a couple of practice tamales, you'll be assembling them in no-time. Replace water with broth for extra flavor, and skip the lard if you prefer using vegetable shortening instead.
Although the recipe has many steps, it's simply divided into 5 main stages: make the beef filling by cooking it in the crockpot for 8 hours; prepare the husks by covering them with water for 1 hour; make the dough with masa harina and lard; assemble, and finally steam the tamales.
- Masa Harina Dough:
- 6 cups masa harina
- 5 cups water (warm)
- 2 cups lard
- 3 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoon cumin
- 3 tablespoon chili powder (ground chiles)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Optional: 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- Beef Filling:
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 4 pounds chuck roast
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons chili powder (ground chiles)
- 2 tablespoons oregano, dried
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 can (4 ounces) green chiles, chopped
- 1 onion
- 2 cups water (or beef broth)
- Optional: 1/2 teaspoon annatto paste
- 40 corn husks, softened in water
- Optional: 2 cups vegetable shortening
Gather the ingredients.
Prepare the beef filling by heating a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat and adding the cooking oil. Swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan or pot.
Sprinkle the flour over the roast and rub it in evenly over the surface.
Carefully place the chuck roast into the hot pan and let it sizzle for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until it's browned nicely. You don't want to cook it, but to sear the outside to seal in the juices.
Place the roast into a slow cooker. If including the annatto paste, use a spoon to smear it over the top. One at a time, sprinkle in the ground cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic, cocoa, and salt.
Add a can of chopped green chiles. Peel and chop the onion into 1/4 inch pieces or smaller. Add those to the crockpot.
Pour the water or beef broth into the bottom of the crockpot – it should come about an inch up the sides of the roast. Too much liquid will make a soupy mixture.
Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. Afterward, the beef should be fork tender and fall apart easily. There shouldn't be much liquid left in the bottom of the pot, and what is left should be of a gravy consistency.
With the help of two forks or a slotted spoon, remove any large chunks of fat from the roast. Shred the remaining beef by pulling it apart into chunks or strands. Mix the liquids and beef together until it is well combined. Set aside.
To prepare the corn husks, clean and remove any debris or corn hairs. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces.
Place the husks into a large bowl. Cover the husks with warm water and keep them submerged with the help of a heavy item for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove the husks from the water and pat dry. Place into a covered dish and cover with a wet, clean kitchen towel, or place in a large plastic bag to prevent them from drying out. Use only the larger and medium-sized husks for the tamales. When looking at the husk, notice the shape: they have a narrow end, a broad end, and two long sides, resembling a trapezoid.
Cut strips off of the smaller, non-usable husks by cutting or tearing 1/4 inch lengths. Reserve.
Prepare the tamale dough. In a mixing bowl combine masa and warm water or broth until combined. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so to let the masa soften.
Mix it on low speed with an electric whisk or vigorously mix with your hands until a dough forms. Gradually add the salt, cumin, and onion powder by sprinkling them over the dough as you mix it.
In a separate bowl, whip lard or shortening for about 3 minutes or until fluffy. Add the lard to the dough a little at a time. Mix well until combined. The mixture should be about the consistency of peanut butter, dense but malleable. You don't want it to be too sticky so use water or harina as needed until you achieve the desired consistency.
To assemble the tamales, lay a husk on a flat surface.
Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of dough onto the husk, depending on the size of the husk. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the dough onto the husk. When spreading the dough, leave a space of about 4 inches from the narrow end of the husk and about 2 inches from the broad end. Spread the dough to the edge of one of the long sides and 2 inches away from the other long side. Try to keep the dough approximately 1/4 inch thick.
Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least one inch of dough around the sides.
Locate the long side with a 2-inch space with no masa. Fold that over, slightly overlapping the other side so the edges of the dough meet. Wrap an extra husk around the back so it's neatly wrapped. Fold the broad end over the top and then the longer narrow end over the broad end.
With the strips of husk you previously cut, tie the tamales crosswise, and if they're small enough lengthwise as well. Using kitchen twine instead can be preferable to tie each tamale until tightly packed.
Set tamales upright in a steamer or use a pot with boiling water and a colander or mesh on top to hold the tamales. The water should not touch the tamales and the pot should have a fitting lid to cover the tamales during the steaming process. Steam for about 90 minutes and let them cool for 1 hour, without taking them out of the steamer, before serving to allow the dough to firm up.
Enjoy the tamales with your favorite table sauce, pico de gallo, lime, and fresh avocados!