Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rosie Makes Tamales.

Hot tamales!
The other day, a friend dropped by with a little surprise for me. She'd come across several copies of food magazines - Fine Cooking, Gourmet, Saveur, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, and La Cuchina Italiana - and brought them to me. That's like Christmas. Sadly, I get no cooking magazines anymore. I used to get bunches, but it became too hard to throw anything away. I had to give them up. I figured I could get everything online, but it's just not the same. I miss my magazines. After quickly thumbing through the magazines, I saw a recipe for "True Tamales" in Fine Cooking and my recipe today is adapted from this. The article about tamales noted that tamales are a celebration food in Latin America, generally served at Christmas and New Year's Eve. Not only eating tamales, but making them, is part of the celebration. Party gatherings, known as tamaladas, bring family and friends together in the kitchen, resulting in a batch of steaming hot tamales. Making tamales involves preparing a soft, rich corn dough called masa, along with a meat or vegetable filling and a deliciously complex sauce. The masa and filling are wrapped in corn husks (or banana leaves, depending on the region) and then steamed. The process isn't difficult at all. What it is is extremely time-consuming. The key is getting the masa right and mastering the wrapping technique. And the result is something else indeed. The styles of tamales vary throughout Latin America, but the basic components are the same. This beef filling, encased in masa, wrapped in corn husks and steamed, and served with a smoky chile sauce, is traditionally Mexican. Tamales date to pre-Columbian times. Back then, field corn would be processed with wood ashes. Now, it is processed with lime, or calcium hydroxide. This ancient process is called "nixtamalization." Corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution and then hulled. Nixtamalization originated in Mesoamerica where maize was originally cultivated. The earliest evidence of this process is found in Guatemala's southern coast from 1200-1500. The Aztecs and Mayans created alkaline solutions using calcium hydroxide (lime) and postassium hydroxide (caustic potash). Tribes of North America used sodium carbonate (soda ash). The nixtamalization process contributed positively to the Mesoamerican diet. Unprocessed maize is deficient in Niacin and a population dependent on maize as a staple risks malnourishment, particularly pellagra, a vitamin deficiency disease most commonly caused by a chronic lack of niacin or vitamin B3. Maize, by itself, is also deficient in essential amino acids. Maize, processed with lime or ash, provided niacin in the Mesoamerican diet. When consumed with a legume (beans) the essential amino acids are added to balance the diet for a complete protein. I recently posted about a couscous and garbanzo bean salad which addressed this very issue of creating complete proteins. Now, on to tamales. BoldFirst, I'm preparing the beef filling. Next the chile sauce. Then the masa. And last, the assembly. As I mentioned before, this is a time-consuming process. I'll be giving you times for the different steps so you can see the progress of this dish. Part 1: Beef Filling.
Time: 2:49 Here's mise en place for my beef filling.
1-2 TB lard or oil I used lard since it sounded more authentic.
 2 Denver cut steaks, cut into 3/4 - 1 inch cubes
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4 dried bay leaves, toasted
3 sprigs fresh thyme and oregano
4 whole cloves
4 dried chiles, toasted, stemmed, and seeded
 I used 2 anchos and 2 guajillos.
An ancho chile is a dried poblano. A guajillo chile is a dried Mirasol chile.
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp whole allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick

 For the beef filling: Heat lard over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the beef cubes until well browned- about 3-4 minutes each on top and bottom. Transfer each batch to a bowl and set aside. After browning all the beef, return to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover. Cook until the meat is fall-apart tender - about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Remove meat from pot, cool, and shred. Discard solids and reserve the broth. In case you don't know about Denver cut steaks, here's my previous post about it. I just happened to have the Denver cut in my freezer and wanted to try it out using the sear and simmer method. The Denver was perfect for that. It would also be good sliced very thin and stir fired. I wouldn't recommend grilling it as a steak. Not tender enough for that, but the other two methods would deliver wonderfully fork-tender meat. The Denver cut is quite flavorful to boot. Substitutions for the Denver could be the flat iron steak, a London broil, the teres major (AKA mock tender), which I mentioned in the above previous post. You could even go with a pork Boston butt. From my post: I checked out the meats at Food Lion and found yet another new, to me, cut. It's called the Denver Steak, and it's cut from the top of the chuck.
"The Denver Steak is another hidden gem uncovered as a result of the checkoff-funded muscle profiling project, which has revealed several other undervalued beef cuts including the Petite Tender, the Ranch Steak and the ever popular Flat Iron Steak. These under-utilized beef muscles are being marketed for their exceptional attributes which enhance the eating experience. The Denver Steak, found in the Chuck Roll, is no exception. Being cut from the fourth most tender muscle in the carcass, it is generously marbled, juicy and tender. It offers great beef flavor and versatility. The Denver Steak provides consistent, reliable results whether served as a center-of-the-plate entree, sliced into strips for a savory stir-fry or cut into cubes for kabobs."
First, I toasted my chiles and dried bay leaves. Heat a heavy duty skillet (I used cast iron.) over medium high heat. Flip frequently for even toasting. Lightly char the chiles and bay leaves.
I stemmed and seeded the toasted chiles.
Next, I cut my meat into small cubes.
I melted a tablespoon of lard over medium-high heat and seared my cubes. Total time: 6-8 minutes. For the first 2-3 minutes, do NOT touch or move the meat. It hasn't had enough time to release on its own. If you try to stir it, you'll just tear the meat. Give it time to sear and resist the temptation to probe and stick and move the meat. Yes, Mr. Hawthorne. I'm looking at you.
Now that's a purty sear. It's most important not to crowd the pan when searing. If you crowd the pan, you reduce the temperature and you won't get a proper sear. You'll get a steam which grays and toughens the meat.
This is called the Maillard reaction, named after the early 20th century physician and chemist, Louis-Camille Maillard. Basically, it's browned meat. There are two types of browning. One involves enzymes and is a more undesirable type of browning. Think about an apple turning brown after being cut. Or an avocado turning brown from oxidation. Or the skin of a mature banana. Enzymatic browning is a chemical process that results in a brown color. Generally it requires exposure to oxygen. Enzymatic browning is detrimental to fresh fruit and vegetables, but is beneficial to developing flavor in tea and developing favor and color in dried fruits. The other type of browning food is a non-enzymatic chemical process which produces brown color without any enzyme activity. There are two main forms of non-enzymatic browning: caramelization and the Maillard reaction. Caramelization is the pyrolysis of sugar. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition involving cooking sugars with the presence of oxygen. and results in a nutty flavor and brown color, producing the characteristic caramel flavor. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a sugar usually requiring the addition of heat. The type of amino acid involved determines the resulting flavor, so depending on the amino acid, you can produce a variety of odors and flavors. For example, the crust of a lovely brioche is golden brown due to the Maillard reaction. My cubes of meat are brown due to the Maillard reaction. French fries are brown because of the Maillard reaction. You're quite welcome for that explanation.
I returned my Maillarded cubes to the pan and added in the toasted chiles.
Humor me with my action shots.
My remaining ingredients:
chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
 4 whole cloves
1 tsp whole peppercorns
 1 tsp whole allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
I added them all to the beef, along with the toasted chiles.
Time: 3:32 Cover with water.
Time: 5:33 Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer.
Cook about 2 hours. I could have stopped right here. This is delightful. I love the warm spicy flavors with the meat. The cinnamon, allspice berries, and cloves are in there, but they're not overpowering. I taste the meat first, and the spices are in the background.
Time: 5:46 I removed the meat from the pot and let cool. Reserve the beef broth. Time: 5:53 Shred by hand. Part 2: Chile Sauce.
Time: 3:44 My mise en place for the sauce:
2 TB lard or oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 head garlic
I said head, not clove. We're talking the whole thing.
3 ancho chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded, and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
3 guajillo chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded, and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
2 cups crushed tomatoes
 around 2 cups chicken broth
1 TB masa harina (tamale grind)
1 TB honey
1 tsp cumin seed, toasted
1 tsp oregano, toasted
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
 Kosher salt
cinnamon stick
 Make the chili sauce. Heat 1 TB lard or oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until they start to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer onion and garlic to processor.
Add the spices to a hot, dry skillet Cook, shaking for a few minutes until the spices start releasing their flavors.
Be careful not to burn. Next we need to roast the peppers. And if you're smart, you'll turn your hood fan on high, open windows to get cross ventilation, and wear goggles and a mask. Just sayin'. And these peppers aren't even hot. It got a little smoky and coughy in here.
Keep turning to sear the outside. Sear, not char.
Stem and seed the peppers, transfer to a bowl, and pour boiling water to cover. Soak for at least 20 minutes.
I melted a tablespoon of lard and added the onions and garlic in my skillet.
The onions and garlic are ready.
I drained my peppers on paper towels and I'm ready to process.
Onions and garlic in my Blue Ninja.
Add in chiles with 2 cups crushed tomatoes.

While Dixie naps in the background, I added some of the chicken stock to thin the puree to a sauce consistency. Process until smooth.
Heat 1/2 TB lard or oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat and add in TB of masa harina.
Stir for one minute.
Then pour in the chile-tomato mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has darkened in color- about 3-4 minutes.
Add a tablespoon of honey and I would use a good quality honey. This particular honey we found in Creswell, Oregon, on Bear Mountain Road. The honey comes from wildflowers of the Willamette Valley. Of course, Mr. Hawthorne brought his sourwood honey from the Blue Ridge Mountains on our trip out West. His sourwood is second to none.
Add in the toasted spices.
A little more chicken broth for a thinner consistency. And if you're wondering why my chicken stock looks red, it's because that's the cup the crushed tomatoes were in.
Don't forget the cinnamon stick. Lower heat and bare-simmer an additional 20 minutes. Sauce is done. Time: 4:49 Only hour five minutes for the sauce and this sauce is worth every minute. I must say, this is one richly complex sauce. There are so many undertones of flavors and dimensions of tastes here. And a little bit goes a long way. Cover and set aside. Step 3: Masa.
Time: 4:59 For the Masa: 1 3/4 cups tamale-grind masa harina 6 ounces unsalted butter, softened Kosher salt 1 - 1 1/4 cups reserved cooking broth In a large bowl, mix the masa harina with 1 - 1 1/4 cups hot water. (140 - 160 degrees.) Cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, using a hand-held mixer, I whipped the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 11/2 tsp salt and and continue beating while adding the masa in golf-ball-size pieces. When about half the masa is in, start alternating with the reserved broth, until the masa is all used, along with about a cup of the broth. Add in a ladle of the chile sauce and whip until light and fluffy, adding more broth of the mixture seems too dry. To test if the masa is ready, take a small piece (1/2 tsp) and drop it in a cup of cold water. It should easily float. If not, whip the masa for a few more minutes and test again. Here are my step by steps. Hot water going into masa.
Mix well and it looks like this. Six ounces of softened, unsalted butter. Whup it up for about 2 minutes. Nice and fluffy, you want. Add the masa in golfball-size pieces, waiting a few seconds between each addition. When you've added half the masa, add a little of the broth. Alternate between masa balls and reserved beef broth. Beat until light and fluffy. And then test.
Time: 6:27. Drop a 1/2 tsp. ball into cold water. Tadaaaaa! It floats! I did it right. Yay, ME! If it doesn't float for you, go back and beat some more.
Time: 5:15 I poured boiling water over my corn husks. Soak for 45 minutes.
Step 4: Assembly.
Time: 5:54. My reserved beef broth is at left. My corn husks are soaking at back left. My masa is ready at back right. My chile is ready at middle right. Shredded beef bottom middle.
I added in a few ladles of the chile sauce to the shredded beef.
Mix well.
Spread out a corn husk and spread about 1/3 cup over the masa in the center of the widest portion of the husk.
Spread it evenly over 1/2 to 2/3 of the husk,
leaving a 1/2 inch border at each edge.
Now right here's where I erred. What I should have done was spoon the chile mixture down vertically, so it would be encased by the masa when you pull the sides over it.
I didn't screw it up doing it horizontally, but it would have been a better execution had I place the beef vertically.
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 that point, Mr. Hawthorne came into the kitchen and commandeered it.
"I'll do the tamales," he boomed. Yeah, you go boy! I guess he figgered if he wanted to eat ...
Mr. Hawthorne stuffed all the tamales, folded them ...
... and tied 'em up in pretty little bows. My ... - excuse me - Mr. Hawthorne's ... tamales are ready to be steamed. Then I looked back at the instructions which I really hadn't read all the way through. Rosie Tip #386: Always read the recipe through from end to end. I don't like surprises. Remember I started at 2:49. It is now 6:55. Four hours and six minutes. I check the instructions, and now I need to steam these buggers for almost 2 hours. I ain't eatin' after no stinkin' 9 o'clock! I covered the tamales up, popped them in the fridge, had a mini-meltdown in the kitchen when I saw all the work I'd done and all the work I needed to do to clean up and I still had the 5th load of laundry to do and the dogs to take out since Mr. Hawthorne does not deal with dogs and the children are at work/roaming through kitchen/ wondering out loud when dinner will be ready and can't be bothered to help out in any way and I see I need to vacuum the dog hair of 3 large dogs and 1 small dog and the debris of 16 paws and at least 10 feet, usually more. In other words, I overwhelmed myself. The cat, Dogwood, is very easy. He makes few demands on me. At 6:56, I had an epiphany. I realized there were going to be NO tamales tonight. No problem. They'll be even better tomorrow, when I'm fresh. So, at 7:25, Mr. Hawthorne produced this sandwich. Whole wheat bread, just-picked tomatoes and lettuce, Kentucky double-smoked ham slices, rubber cheese. The children came back at 8:33 with the pizza. Perfect. Life is good. No tamales tonight. Tomorrow, Rosie makes the tamales. Fast forward to tomorrow.
I arranged my tamales open end up in a steamer basket. Cover with extra husks to concentrate the heat. And put a lid on the pot. Steam for about 1 1/2 hours, checking the water level and adding more water as needed. When done, the masa should be set and will pull away from the wrapper easily. Let tamales rest for 5-10 minutes to allow the masa to firm up. Serve with the chile sauce. You open up the corn husk and get a burst of chile and meat flavored steam.
The aroma is amazing. You've got the tender, shredded beef with warm nuances of spices and a rich, truly intense chile sauce along with the corn flavor of the masa.

Nobody ever said this was a pretty dish.
I've never had tamales at a Mexican restaurant before so I didn't have anything to compare them to, but Middle Hawthorne pronounced them the best tamales he's ever had. He had two for breakfast yesterday, two for lunch yesterday, and one later on for a snack. That chile sauce is killer.


SweetPhyl said...

Holy corn husk, Rosie! I applaud your amazing efforts. I don't think I would ever attempt a tamale. But, you've encouraged me to make that amazing looking chile sauce--that looks like it would make my nephew's 2 year old Converse All Stars taste amazing! (Not that i would encourage consumption of teenage atheletic footwear, but you get my point.) But, oh man, I bow to your skill & patience and I still wish you'd adopt me.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

SweetPhyl, there's nothing like a sauce made with dried chiles. It's a whole different ballgame.

As for adoption, I don't think so. I can't get rid of the kids I have. They keep coming back.

But I'd be happy to cook for you.
Any requests for a particular food post?

Anonymous said...

You can steam Tamales in a pressure cooker at 15psi and cut the cooking time down to an hour, but make sure there is no direct contact with the water or stock

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Anony, I don't like using a pressure cooker. I'll take the extra time over dealing with pressure any time.

alcuban said...

In grammar school, did they mention the business about periods and paragraph returns, instead of writing in one endless sentence? It makes it easier to read.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Yes they did, alcuban. I always listed the ingredients in an easy-to-read column. Something happened years ago with blogger when they changed something and it screwed up the formatting for all the previous posts.