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Weekend Cooking: Fresh Corn Tamales

Heather Ross14 Comments


Last weekend we visited Joelle and brought with us a moody little dog, three pounds of bacon, and 40 ears of corn. The corn was actually the most problematic item on the packing list. I collected it at the Farmers Market on Friday, and because I had stopped off at a sale on 7th avenue I missed the "easy to get a cab" window and had to take the subway, which is usually very easy but not so much with 40 ears of corn. They say that you should buy the heaviest corn because its the freshest. I agree, unless you are wearing a white shirt and rain is expected and you have to carry home your groceries five blocks from the subway station in said rain all because you can't get a cab because someone told you that there was a full rack of Helmut Lang, all 75% off, at Loehmans which you could not resist which meant that by the time you got to Farmers Market it was rush hour and there was not a cab in sight. In that case, get the really stale lightweight variety.

The reason for the corn was, of course, tamales. We had planned to make a huge batch, enough to freeze even, during our long lazy weekend in the country. When we woke up in the beginnings of an all day rainstorm on Sunday morning, we headed straight to the kitchen. Well, not all of us. Lobo and Harper headed to the front porch to continue a heated debate over a bone that had begun the night before and TC headed back upstairs to nap. But Joelle and I headed for the kitchen.

I'm told that the reason tamales are traditionally made in huge batches has to do with The Day of The Dead, and that for this holiday you are not only cooking and celebrating for and with your present circle of family and freinds, but that you are also celebrating (and preparing food for) those who are no longer here. I'm not sure what happens next. I guess you put them in the freezer and if none of them end up stopping by its ok to eat them. Right?

Making them in large batches really is the way to go, because they are quite a lot of work (the factory line, redundant sort of work, not the complicated, problem solving sort of work), be sure to keep a glass of wine handy for those all important breaks from wrapping or your hands will surely prune up along with your mood.

Anyway, I had once tasted tamales at a fancy, modern retaurant in Mexico City made with fresh corn and had always wanted to try to make them. I also have a sick obsession with that little lump of sweet corn mush that they give you at Chilis regardless of what you order. When I stumbled across this recipe, I was pretty sure I had found a hybrid of sorts.

In the batch that Joelle and I made, we left out the butter and eggs. They still turned out really well. Then I came home and made a batch with butter, and those turned out really REALLY well. Then, I tried adding a bit of sliced jalepeno and some of monterey jack cheese. The chili mellowed a lot during cooking and the cheese got all crazy-stretchy. A bit of chopped avocado and some greek yogurt and a bit of cilantro and dinner was sooo ready.

Fresh Corn Tamales

28 cups of corn kernels (about 45 ears)

2 cups Masa Harina

1 1/2 cups butter, room temp

2/3 cups lard or shortening

1 cup raw sugar

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 eggs, room temp

2 Tablespoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

juice of one lime

fresh corn husks

optional: jalepeno peppers, sliced

monterey jack cheese

garnish: cilantro, avocado, greek yogurt

shuck corn and reserve husks, allowing them to soak in a large bowl of water or in the sink while you make the tamale batter.

Begin by removing the kernels from the corn cobs. Break each cob in half with your hands. Working with one half at a time, hold the cob upright with its flat end on a cutting board and use a sharp paring knife to cut the kernels, cutting away from your hands and towards the cutting board.

Working in several small batches, puree the kernels in a food processor. Transfer each batch to a stand mixer bowl. Add masa, honey, butter, lard, sugar, cayenne, lime, and lastly, the eggs. Mix for five minutes on a medium speed, add baking powder and salt and mix for one more minute. Let stand for thirty minutes.

Place a heaping teaspoon in the center of a flattened corn husk. If you like, add slices of jalepeno peppers and shredded cheese to the center of your batter. Fold edges over the mixture and then bring the ends together and tie them using torn pieces of husk, as shown. Remember when filling that the mixture will expand slightly while cooking.

NOTE: Other great options for tamale fillings include shredded or ground beef or pork, chunks of squash or pumpkin, or even slices of lime. All will soften and mellow during steaming and make for a lovely surprise when the tamales are opened. I made half my batch with pieces of roasted chicken and jalepeno, and tied the a little differently so that I would be able to distinguish them from eachother later.

Place a clean dishtowel over a bamboo steamer. Layer the tamales, with their tied ends upright, tightly together. Wrap the edges of the dishtowel over the tamales and cover with the bamboo lid. Fill the bottom of your wok with water and place your steamer inside. the base of the steamer should rest just above the water, not in it. Cover with the wok lid and steam for one hour and fifteen minutes.

Serve some immediately with greek yorgurt, cilantro, and sliced avocado. Freeze remaining tamales in small batches (I put four or six in a ziplock bag) so that they can be steamed or microwaved easily in the future.