Tamales are a huge Christmas tradition in San Antonio, the town where I grew up. It was a tradition in my family to buy tamales from HEB for both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. (I've even had homemade tamales from various friends, one of which was jalepeno tamales from Panama....though she neglected to tell me about all those jalepenos! Where is a flour tortilla to take away the heat!)
Then we moved to Virginia where flavors are sort of, well...bland. When Christmas came, we were hungry for tamales, but I didn't want to make them because they are so much work. However things weren't quite the same that first year in Virginia without tamales.
The following Christmas I found a Paula Deen Christmas issue magazine 2008 at the check out of the grocery store. I've never been a huge fan of the recipes (though she seems to be a lot of fun and I love her decorating style!) because she just cooks with too much butter, lard and sugar, which I know is a Southern thing but I try to eat healthier while keeping all the flavors! However this issue promised to be a collector's issue. I wondered why and picked it up. She had a huge section on her visit to Colonial Williamsburg, having tea with Patrick Henry(wow!), with cooking spreads on her working with an 18th century cook and a modern cook at one of the CWF chefs with recipes...and more! Wow! That was definitely worth buying, so I did! When I got home I found a Mexican section with Chicken Tomatillo Tamales that looked really good which surprised me because she's a Southern gal (and queen, without a doubt and that is a positive comment full of respect!) and Tex Mex is sooo different from Southern. In fact, Tex Mex is different from Mexican, but this recipe definitely looked Tex Mex to me (and not Mexican-it took moving to Virginia to realize the difference but now I know! lol)
So I made my first ever tamales that Christmas of 2009! I had meant for my kids to help me, but we had had a blizzard. A blizzard (20" of snow in NoVA! That is unheard of. Little did we know we'd get another 30" before the winter season was over!) and these Texas kids were having fun exploring all the possibilities of sledding down the hill next to our house, which was hilarious since we didn't have any sleds! It was quite the lesson in physics!
Meanwhile I labored over tamales, listened to Christmas music and took mini-breaks to do a bit of my own experimental sledding! Anyway there is my Paula Deen magazine opened up in front of me with the great picture tutorial of how to spread and wrap! I could keep an eye on the kids outside the dining room window (top right of this photo) and the kitchen windows. Too fun! What a cozy Christmas!
They were a hit! So I made them again the next Christmas one night while watching "Christmas in Connecticut," which I thought was funny since it's about a lady who writes gourmet cooking and homekeeping articles for a major publication, all based on her family farm in Connecticut...except she was a single lady living in New York City who couldn't cook. She got all her recipes from her Uncle Felix. Somehow I felt a connection...
See, I'm using the same Paula Deen magazine again, opened up before me. I'm so impressed with this issue. I took more step by step photos this time. In the tub on the right I have the corn husks soaking. I grab one, spread on the masa (far left), then add some filling (second from left), then wrap and place in the red plate (far left).
Another year of homemade tamales. Another hit! Happy, happy family!
One year I finally corraled my kids to help and they had fun, whipping them out in an afternoon!
Now we have a new tradition...the kids help me make tamales! (Except for this last Christmas because of my being under the weather. I'm still on voice rest.)
Anyway tamales come in a variety of flavors based on the filling ingredient which can be either pork, beef, or chicken. It can even be a dessert! At one San Antonio restaurant we were given white chocolate vanilla bean "tamales" wrapped inside a cornhusk!
I do plan to expeiment with other meats, but so far I am quite happy with these Chicken Tomatillo recipes, even though I have ammended her recipe.
I usually have left over filling that I freeze and save for flautas! This makes so many tamales that we certainly don't need them all at once for our family. So I usually pack up half in a gallon sized freezer bag and save for New Years.
Chicken Tomatillo Tamales
2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
2 T corn oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 c chopped cooked dark meat chicken (that has been boiled with seasonings: salt and garlic)
2 c shredded Monterey Jack cheese
5 t cumin, divided4 t ancho chili powder, divided
4.5 t salt, divided
chipotle pepper powder to taste
2 c corn oil
6 c masa harina
1 package dried corn husks, separated and soaked
In a large pot, cover tomatillos with water seasoned with salt and garlic. Bring to boil. Boil for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Drain tomatillos, reserving 1.5 c of cooking water.
In a skillet heat 2T corn oil. Saute onions and garlic until softened.
Puree tomatillos. Pour into large bowl. Add onion, garlic, chicken, cheese, 3t cumin, 2t chili powder, salt to taste, chipotle powder to taste. Set aside.
Now time to make the masa. Combine masa, corn oil, 3 t salt, 2 t cumin, 2t chili powder, some chipotle powder to taste. Gradually stir in 1.5 c of reserved tomatillo cooking water, beating until smooth.
The rest of the process is rather standard, so now I'm going to turn you over to Son of the South, who not only uses corn oil instead of shortening like me, but also has step by step details on each part of the tamale making process.