Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Traditions: A How-To on Tamales

I am on family vacation for the holiday, but while I'm gone, you are in for a treat from some sweet friends. They're sharing their Christmas traditions with us! If you missed one, click here to catch up. Happy reading!
By Marissa Bryson

I far as I can remember, Christmas growing up consisted of 3 major things: 
Church (Advent, decked out sanctuary, musicals, candle light Christmas Eve service), 
Family Fun (I'm the youngest of 8, cutting our own tree at the Christmas Tree Farm, driving around town looking at lights, picking names for secret gifts, major wrapping paper mess on Christmas morning),
Tamales (waiting ALL year to make them, and happily consuming them for days!) 

Yes ladies and gents,  tamales are a vital component to my Christmas experience. I can't remember ever having a Christmas 'season' without seeing my mom in the kitchen dedicating a full day to tamale making. Lovingly cooking delicious meats that would soon find a cozy home inside the masa (corn meal) casing. Cleaning and soaking the corn husks until they become soft and pliable for the graceful spreading of the masa. 

And the pot! Aluminum workhorses they are. Who could ever forget the enormous steam pots specially designed and equipped to hold 50-100 tamale beauties at a time? 

When Julianna asked if I would be interested in sharing a Christmas Tradition, I without hesitation said "Yes!" as visions of tamales popped into mind. So I thought I'd try to take you through some procedural steps to give you and idea of all that goes into making a homemade tamale in my moms home (and proudly, now my own home as well!).

How to Make Tamales: Step by Step 

1. Prepare your fillings- Cook your meats. Traditionally in our family this has been limited to slow cooked beef & chicken. In recent years we have expended to include a cheese and green chile variety as well. After meats have cooled and been shredded, we add some of the #2 'salsa roja' (red sauce) to the meats for added flavor and consistency. We also take this time to cut up the cheese and green chile. 

2. Prepare your masa- We buy our masa prepared from local Mexican markets. The masa is perfectly fine to use as is, BUT being that my mom is an insanely good cook, she has always up the standards by 'adding' flavor to the prepared masa. This includes, homemade beef or chicken stock blended with rehydrated red chilies, garlic and some salt. This concoction is added to the masa and worked 'a mano' (by hand) until thoroughly blended. 

3. Prepare your husks-  Store bought corn husks range in cleanliness. Most packages need to be soaked for about 15-20 min. in hot water to loosen up the dirt particles and corn silk strands left behind. It's very important to work with a clean husk.  

4. Assemble- Now it's time to assemble the tamale!  You balance a corn husk in one hand while using a wooden spoon to spread a good amount of masa onto it as if giving a good paint application. This becomes a special talent as beginners soon find out. Then you add your filling of choice, fold one side in, then the other and the bottom tucked up.   

5. Set aside until enough are made to add to the pot to steam. 

6. Cooking time varies on how many you are cooking at a time, but normally it averages around 20-25 min. per batch. It's crucial to not over stuff the pot with tamales - they each need equal steam time to cook through. 

7. Once the VERY 1ST batch of the season is completed... STOP what you are doing and EAT one! : )  This is a must and pretty much a ritual in our house. Not much comes close to a homemade fresh tamale ~ ~

Tamale making is a process that is simple in steps but very hard tedious work. Often back breaking when you've been standing afoot for 8-10 hours reaching, bending, spreading, soaking, cooking and on and on and on 100's and 100's of these precious gems.  And it's that hard work and love poured into making each and every one of those amazing corn husk packages that makes them taste even better.  Once you have learned how to make them, your appreciation sky rockets for them and the 'hands behind the husks'. 

I've been helping my mom assemble tamales since I was a wee one. I am sure mine were never very neat and pretty compared to my mom's, but it was important to her that I felt like I had a part in the Christmas tradition. She was passing down heritage to me. A living legacy of sorts. 

And now I have felt it extremely important to master (or attempt) my mom's tamale making process and recipe so that one day I too can pass on the tradition to my daughters (or son... he likes  them too!) and keep it alive. Each year under her tutelage I have gotten better and better.  Last year I made my first attempt to do some tamale making all on my own just to see if I could wing it.  And I did! And they were gooood

Not to be completely side tracked. Christmas is most definitely not all about eating tamales, and I thank God for the greatest tradition of celebrating His Son's birth first and foremost. 
It's just really hard not to get giddy over the thought of tamale season : )  
You know that phrase "worth the wait"? That's kind of how I see tamales. It's a specialty food that, sure, it could be made and enjoyed year round BUT reserving it for Christmas time... once a year... surely makes it truly worth the wait. 

Feliz Navidad everyone!  Blessings on your Christmas traditions ~ 
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About Marissa: She is a proud homemaker & homeschooler.  That's her by day. Being that she is part nocturnal creature, she often spends many late nights researching, implementing and offering creative ideas.  She enjoys finding amazing deals, themed parties,  cooking multicultural cuisine for family and friends and making her house a little more like 'home' everyday. She loves Jesus with her whole heart and strives to show His amazingness through her creative endeavors.   Marissa is married to her college sweetheart and is mother of three beautiful children, ages 7, 5 & 18months. She resides in Whittier, CA.  
^^^Opinions, two-cents, questions and ramblings are welcome. And go above. Go ahead. Try it.

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