Saturday, May 15, 2010


Makes 12

5 ounces (2/3 cup) fresh pork lard, chilled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely ground (1 pound) fresh masa, or 1 3/4 cups masa harina mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water, cooled to room temperature
2/3 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, preferably homemade

4 ounces dried corn husks

6 large dried New Mexico chiles, stems removed, seeded, and torn into 4 pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
12 ounces lean boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt

To make the batter: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the lard, baking powder, and salt. Beat until light and fluffy. Add 1 cup masa and 1/3 cup stock; beat until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining masa and 1/3 cup stock; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. The batter should be soft but it should hold its shape in a spoon.

If using fresh masa, test the batter to determine if it is adequately fluffy (this will ensure light and tender tamales): Drop 1 teaspoon batter into a cup of cold water. If it floats to the surface, it is ready.

Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Store batter in an airtight container, refrigerated, up to 2 days.

To make the wrappers: Reconstitute the corn husks by placing them in a deep saucepan and covering them with water. Set saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil.

Transfer husks and water to a heat-proof bowl. Set a small plate on top of husks, keeping them submerged. Soak 1 hour. Remove from water.

To make the filling: In the jar of a blender, combine chiles, garlic, pepper, and cumin. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and blend until a smooth puree forms.

Strain mixture into a medium saucepan. Add the pork, 1 3/4 cups water, and salt. Place over medium heat; cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has reduced to the consistency of a thick sauce and the meat is very tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Using a fork, break up the meat.

Return the tamale batter to the mixer. On low to medium speed, mix the batter for a few seconds to lighten the dough. Add 3 tablespoons sauce; mix again to combine.

You may need to add a few tablespoons or so of chicken stock. The batter should not be stiff, but slightly loose and not runny. Remember, the lighter the batter, the more tender the tamale.

To assemble the tamales: Unroll one large reconstituted corn husk; tear lengthwise along grain to make 1/4-inch-wide strips (two per tamale); if strips aren't long enough, tie two together.

Place another long piece, lightly dried, on work surface, pointed end away from you; scoop 1/4 cup batter onto middle of one end. Spread into a 4-inch square, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border on pointed end and a 1-inch border on the other sides. Spoon 2 tablespoons filling down the center. Bring long sides together to form a cylinder, making sure the batter encases filling. Fold the pointed end under; tie loosely with husk strip. Fold the flat end under; tie. Repeat.

Reserve smaller husks to line the steamer basket and cover the tamales.

To steam the tamales: Set steamer over high heat. When steam puffs out, reduce the heat to medium. Steam 1 hour 15 minutes, adding more water when necessary. To check for doneness, unwrap a tamale: If ready, dough will come free from wrapper and feel soft. If dough sticks to wrapper, rewrap, and steam 15 to 20 more minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes for batter to firm up. They will remain warm for about 1 hour.