This has been one hell of a way to start a new year! First off, my Auburn Tigers won the BCS National Championship. Who would have ever thought? And guess what? I was supposed to be there. However sometimes life has other plans, and usually for the best.
You see, Santa Claus brought me two 50-yard line tickets for Christmas. I was going to head out to Phoenix with my best friend Jennifer for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But plane ticket prices skyrocketed, standby started to look bleak, and a blizzard started heading our way. After much debate, we made the last minute decision to sell the tickets.
Turning lemons into lemonade, I decided the only way I would be content was to throw the ultimate football viewing party at “The Georgian.” I immediately extended invites to anyone and everyone (Auburn fans or not, I needed as much support as I could get), and then got busy planning the menu. Alongside the usual suspects (pimento cheese and dixie caviar), I would need something ambitious and unlike any other. Hmmm… Tamales, anyone?
My love for tamales began while living in Los Angeles. I worked with an incredible Salvadoran woman named Hilda, whose love of food was second only to her love of family. After a tragic earthquake hit El Salvador, she started selling her tamales in an effort to raise money to send back home to her siblings. I wanted to help out any way possible so I signed up for 75. Not knowing what I could possibly do with 75 tamales, I did what I do best — threw a tamale-eating party! Who was going to say no to that?
Although Hilda’s tamales were traditional to El Salvador (meaning they are wrapped in banana leaves), my new passion for tamales knew no borders. I quickly discovered Versailles Cuban Restaurant’s tamales doused with garlicy, citrusy mojo sauce bliss. Sheer heaven. So, needless to say, I couldn’t think of a better food to serve for such a big game. But not Cuban tamales, or Salvadoran tamales, but Mississippi Delta Hot Tamales. Why? Because this is a Southern food blog, people.
I’d heard tamale-making was at least a two-person job, so I immediately enlisted the help of Walt. We don’t spend too much time in the kitchen together due to my controlling tendencies, so I was excited to work together on this, and even more excited that he was excited. We started the day before the party not only because it was going to take a full day to make them, but also in case they turned out gross I could still make plans to order pizza.
For the most part, the process was actually very easy (boil meat, wait. shred meat. wait.). The only thing tamale-making really required of us is patience. Late into the evening and starting to see double, we drug Hunter (Walt’s younger brother) in on the rolling action. By that point, every single piece of counter space was covered, every pot and pan was dirty (and I’d even borrowed pots from the neighbor), and the sink was filled to the brim with water and corn husks. The kitchen looked a bit like a nuclear war had erupted, but then again, when doesn’t it?
The next morning I busted out my brand spanking new 32-quart tamale steamer. Not a totally necessary purchase, but definitely worth it in the long run ( I can see summer crawfish boils in my future!). The news reports in the background announced the arrival of the winter storm, and to stay home and stay warm. Not a problem. While the tamales simmered away, I poured myself a spicy bloody mary and let the pre-gaming begin. Neighborhood friends began trickling over, Walt got busy building a fire pit, and his older brother built a “snow tube” out of a baby pool. Yeah, we’re from the South.
As kickoff loomed near (it seemed to be an eternity), extreme hunger finally set in. I piled steamed tamales on the kitchen island alongside all the fixings and told everyone to dig in. People went back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths, which I usually take to mean a job well done. I’m not going to lie to you, they were worth every single ounce of effort.
With cocktails refilled and bellies full, it was finally game time. I paced around the house with anxiety, butterflies swirling in my stomach and hives creeping up my neck. Man, football sure can be a brutal sport. The next three hours of my life were spent on extreme edge. There were ups and downs, laughs and tears, but — tied in the final seconds — my Tigers took it home with a field goal. With our season soundtrack blaring in the background (All we is do is win-win-win!!!!), I cracked open the cheap champagne, unwrapped all of our Charmin (to roll with, folks. What else would I do with toilet paper?), and did my victory dance.
Did I wish I was in Phoenix? Well, maybe a little. But looking at it now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
MISSISSIPPI DELTA HOT TAMALES
Source: Just slightly adapted from the Southern Foodways Alliance
Yields 7 – 10 dozen tamales, depending on size
I made a few small changes to this, but for the most part it is a very well-written and concise recipe. Since I’d never actually made tamales before (only eaten them), I looked to YouTube for instructional videos on how to assemble and roll the tamales. It’s amazing what you can find on there — who needs culinary school anymore?!?
FOR THE MEAT FILLING
6 to 8 pounds boneless meat* (pork shoulder, chuck roast, or chicken)
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 – 2 teaspoons liquid smoke, or to taste
FOR THE CORN HUSKS
2 – 3 bags dried corn husks
FOR THE CORN MEAL DOUGH**
8 cups yellow corn meal or masa mix (available in most grocery stores, Maseca brand is best)
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 and 2/3 cups lard or vegetable shortening
6 to 8 cups warm meat broth (from cooking the meat)
FOR THE MEAT FILLING: Cut the meat into large chunks and place in a very large, heavy stock pot (I used bones, fat, and all). Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours. Remove the meat and reserve the cooking liquid. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard any skin and large chunks of fat. Shred or dice the meat into small pieces. There should be about 14 to 16 cups of meat.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, and liquid smoke. Add in the meat and stir to coat with the oil and spices. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is warmed through, about 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside. (I added a little more oil later on to keep the meat filling nice and moist.)
*I used approximately 16 pounds bone-in pork shoulder to yield the required quantity of meat.
FOR THE CORN HUSKS: While the meat is cooking, soak the husks in a large bowl or sink of very warm water, until they are softened and pliable, about 2 hours. Keep any shucks that split to the side, since two small pieces can be overlapped and used as one.
FOR THE CORN MEAL DOUGH: Combine the corn meal, baking powder, salt and lard together in a large bowl until well blended (I used my hands). Gradually stir in enough warm liquid to make soft, spongy dough that is the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. The dough should be quite moist, but not wet or sticky. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth.
**Please note, I had to make 3 batches of the corn meal dough, so prepare accordingly (I used 1 and 1/2 bags of masa)
ASSEMBLING THE TAMALES: Carefully remove a single corn husk from the water, remove any silks, and pat it dry. Lay the husk on a work surface. Spread about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the dough in an even layer across the bottom corner of the wide end of the husk. Pat out to desired thickness in the form of a rectangle. Spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture in a line down the center of the dough. Roll the husk so that the dough surrounds the filling and forms a cylinder or package. Fold the bottom under to close the bottom and complete the package. Tie closed with kitchen twine or corn husk, if desired (not required). Place the completed tamales in a single layer on a baking sheet. Repeat until all dough and filling is used.
STEAMING THE TAMALES:
Cover the holes in the large steamer basket with corn husks. Stand the tamales upright, closed side down. Cover the tamales with a damp towel or additional husks. Steam the tamales over simmering water (medium- low ish heat) until the dough is firm and pulls away from the husk easily and cleanly (this could be anywhere from 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the pot.) Tip: place a few pennies in the water of the steamer basket. If you start hearing them rattle, the water is getting low and you may need to add some more.
Serve tamales warm, in their husks; remove husks to eat. To reheat steamed tamales, cover tamales with a damp paper towel and heat in microwave until steaming. Serve with sour cream, salsa verde, and hot sauce.
TO FREEZE AND AND REHEAT: You can easily freeze already cooked tamales. Carefully store tamales in water-proof freezer bags. To reheat, re-steam in steamer basket for approximately 20 minutes, or until completely heated through.