Yield: Yields 24 to 30 medium tamales
There are different styles of tamales throughout Latin America, but their essential components—masa, a filling, and a wrapper—are the same. Wrapped in corn husks and served with a smoky chile sauce, these are traditionally Mexican.
Heat the lard or oil in a heavy-duty 8-quart pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the pork until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer each batch to a bowl after browning.
Return all of the pork to the pot and add the remaining pork filling ingredients and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the meat is fall-apart tender, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Remove the meat from the pot, cool briefly, and shred it using 2 forks. Strain the broth, discarding the solids, and let cool briefly. Skim off the excess fat and reserve the broth. (The recipe may be made to this point up to 2 days ahead; refrigerate the meat and broth separately.)
Add the soaked chiles, tomatoes, and a little of the broth to the blender and purée until smooth.
Heat the remaining 1/2 Tbs. lard or oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat, add the masa harina, and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chile-tomato mixture and cook, stirring regularly, until it has darkened in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar or honey, cumin, oregano (if using), allspice, cloves, 2-1/2 tsp. salt, and enough pork broth to thin the purée to a sauce consistency. Add the cinnamon stick, lower the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the color deepens slightly, the consistency is smooth, and a light sheen develops on the surface of the sauce, an additional 15 to 20 minutes, adding more broth as needed. Season to taste with salt and sugar. (The sauce may be made up to 2 days ahead; keep refrigerated.)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), whip the lard, butter, or shortening on medium-high speed until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp. salt and continue beating while adding the masa in golf-ball-size pieces, waiting a few seconds between each addition. When about half of the masa is mixed in, start alternating the masa with the pork broth until all of the masa is used, along with about 2 cups of the broth. Add 1/4 cup of the chile sauce and whip until light and fluffy, adding more broth if the mixture seems too dry.
In a medium bowl, mix 2 cups of the chile sauce with the shredded meat and season to taste with salt.
Wipe a soaked husk dry and put it smooth side up on a work surface. If necessary, trim the bottom with scissors so the husk can lie mostly flat. Put about 1/3 cup masa in the center of the widest portion of the husk. With a spoon or spatula, spread it evenly over one-half to two-thirds of the husk leaving a 1/2-inch border at each edge.
Put 2 to 3 Tbs. of the pork filling in the center of the masa about 1/2 inch from the wide end.
Fold the corn husk in half lengthwise so the edges meet. Fold the seam back so it’s in the center of the tamale. Fold the tail of the wrapper to cover the seam (at least half the length of the tamale). Flip seam side down onto a tray or rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
To test for doneness, quickly remove a tamale and replace the lid on the pot to continue the cooking. Put the tamale on the counter for a few minutes and then carefully unwrap it. If ready, the masa should be set and will pull away from the wrapper easily.
Let the tamales rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to allow the masa to firm up. For softer tamales, let them rest in the pot with the heat off and the lid and extra leaves removed. For firmer tamales, let them rest out of the pot, covered with a cloth.
Serve the tamales in their wrappers with extra sauce passed on the side, and have diners unwrap them just before eating. Once unwrapped, they cool quickly.
This is the best tamale recipe I've ever made. I followed the steps exactly and they turned out fantastic. I even froze some and steamed them after and they were still great! I took 2 days to make them last year and will follow the same steps when I make these in a few weeks.
I also had problems with the masa, but a seasoned tamale maker said it takes practice to get it right, so I think if I keep trying I'll get it. The smoky flavor of the meat was good, but the cloves overwhelmed the taste somewhat. We ate ever last tamale with enthusiasim though!
Fantastic recipie. Great instructions and the pictures in the magazine helped out alot. It is vital that you let them set up after steaming. They just got better over time. Will certainly keep this recipie to make over and over again.
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