By Marilyn Noble
This is a repost of last year’s story about making tamales, but since it was one of our most popular posts, we thought it was worth running again. This year my mom was once again able to take the lead in the process, and we got the project done in record time. And the tamales taste fantastic. Thanks, Mom!
Making tamales at Christmas is a tradition in the borderlands, and every family passes down their favorite techniques from generation to generation. Many a spirited discussion ensues when families intermingle and debate the merits of their particular methods. In our family, my mother learned long ago from a group of women in the small New Mexico smelter town where they lived, and in the intervening years, she’s developed her own way of doing things. I’ve helped her for the past several years, but this year, she’s laid up with a bad shoulder. None of us can imagine a Christmas Eve without tamales, so she sat on the sidelines and coached while my sister and I took on the project.
We started with a trip to the nearest Food City, where they conveniently had most of the ingredients stacked in a huge display at the front of the store. We were able to find fresh masa from a local tortilleria packed in five-pound bags, and we used Morrell Snow Cap lard, which is typical along the border. If you want to use non-hydrogenated lard, ask at your local butcher shop to see if they render their own. You can also buy pork fat and render yourself, which is a separate project for another day.
Food City also had carne de res para tamales, which came boneless and looked like a trimmed brisket. You can use boneless chuck or any other inexpensive cut. Our tamales are always beef, but many cooks prefer pork shoulder or a combination. The meat should be prepared a day in advance so that it has time to properly meld with the red chile sauce. Refrigerate it overnight, and then gently warm it in the oven before you start assembling the tamales. Refrigerate the stock overnight too, and then add some of the solidified fat from the top to the masa for some extra flavor. Warm the stock before you add it to the masa.
The corn husks you buy in the store these days are cleaner and more uniform than they used to be, but you’ll still want to rinse them and remove any stray silk or bugs before you soak them. It makes the process go faster if you sort them before you soak. Use the larger, flatter ones first, and then you won’t have to do so much patching together when you assemble the tamales. If you have lots of small bits and pieces, reserve them to cover the pot for steaming. Soak the husks in a sink full of warm water for about a half hour while you’re making the masa.
Speaking of steaming, a tamale pot is the easiest way to do it, but you can also use a pasta pot with an insert or any deep pot and build a steamer rack in the bottom. The tamales will sit on the rack and the water level should be below it – you don’t want the bottoms of the tamales getting soggy.
To prepare the meat, place it in a large pot and cover it with water. Add plenty of salt and pepper, and gently braise it – don’t boil — for several hours. When it’s done, remove it from the stock to cool. Reserve the stock for making the masa. While the meat is cooling, make the chile sauce. You can use soaked red chiles, but we usually use Hatch chile powder. It’s fresh, easy, and the quickest part of the whole process. We usually do both of these the day before so we can get an early start on the tamale making the next day. Shred the meat, add most, but not all, of the chile sauce, cover and refrigerate.
To make a large quantity of tamales (which makes the most sense, since it’s a labor intensive process), you’ll need a very large, sturdy mixing bowl and a heavy duty mixer. First you have to cream the lard and salt together with the mixer until it’s light and fluffy. At this point you can also add some of the solidified fat from the stock and beat it in. Underbeating the lard will make the tamales dense, and you want them to be light and airy.
Once you have the lard beaten, it’s time to put away the mixer and turn to your hands. This is an arduous process, and it takes a good while to get the masa mixed enough, but it’s worth the work and effort. Start by crumbling the masa into the lard, and then mix with your hands until it’s all combined and no lumps remain. Add the reserved red sauce and mix some more, then add the warm stock. Mix until it resembles a very thick pancake batter. Taste and add more salt, if needed, and then drop a small ball of the masa into a glass of cold water. If it floats, the masa is ready. If not, go back to mixing for another few minutes and then try again.
When the masa is ready, the meat is warmed, and the cornhusks are clean and soaked, it’s time to start assembling. Put the cornhusks in a large colander with the narrow ends up so that they drain well (you don’t want them wet). Everyone has a special technique, and with practice you’ll find one that works for you. I like to lay the cornhusk flat on my left hand with the tapered end toward my body. I then spread a portion of masa across the top 2/3 of the corn husk, all the way to the right edge and with a little space on the left edge. I put a portion of the meat down the center of the masa, add a couple of olive slices (some people like to add raisins), then fold the right edge over so the meat is completely covered by masa, and then fold over the left edge. Finally, I fold the bottom of the corn husk up.
When you’re making lots, place the filled tamales on a large flat tray until you have enough to fill the pot, then add water to the bottom so that it’s barely touching the rack. Stand the tamales up in the pot, and pack them tight enough to stand up, but not too tight, or the ones in the middle won’t cook enough. Cover the top of the tamales with a layer of soaked corn husks, put the top on the pot, and heat over high heat until the water is boiling. Turn the heat down so that it steams but doesn’t boil away, and let cook for 45 minutes.
When the tamales are finished steaming, gently remove them from the pot and lay them on a tray to cool. The masa will continue to set up. At this point they can be eaten (and the cooks certainly deserve a couple right out of the pot) or frozen in zippered plastic bags. Repeat the process with all of the remaining tamales. We used two steamer pots so that we could speed up the process.
In addition to the beef tamales, we also made a large batch of green chile and cheese. We followed the same process, but we didn’t add any red sauce to the masa. Instead of meat, we placed a layer of chopped green chile down the center of the masa, along with a layer of shredded cheese.
We spent about seven hours making twenty-four dozen tamales. They don’t look quite as pretty as our mom’s, but they taste good and received her seal of approval. We had a fun day working together in the kitchen, which is the most important part of these shared traditions, and on Christmas Eve, a steaming platter of tamales, made with love and care, will again grace our dinner table.
Makes about 15 dozen
You can cut this recipe in half if you don’t want to make so many.
8 pounds boneless chuck or pork shoulder, or a combination
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
4 cups red chile sauce (recipe follows)
3 bags corn husks
15 pounds masa
4 pounds lard
3 tablespoons salt
8-10 cups meat stock
Black or green olives, sliced (optional)
In a large pot, cover the meat with water, add salt and pepper, and braise for about 3 hours. Reserve stock and allow meat to cool. While the meat is cooling, make the chile sauce. Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, shred it and add 3 cups of the chile sauce, reserving 1 cup for the masa. Can be done up to two days in advance.
Clean and soak the corn husks in tepid water for about 15-30 minutes until soft and pliable.
If the meat has been in the refrigerator, warm it in a low oven, remove the fat from the top of the stock, and warm the stock on the stovetop.
While the husks are soaking, make the masa. With a heavy mixer, cream the lard and salt together until very fluffy. It should look like whipped cream. Crumble the masa into the lard, and using your hands, mix well. The masa and lard should be fully incorporated. Add the reserved 1 cup of red sauce and combine, then add about 8 cups of stock. Mix well. The dough should resemble a thick, soft batter. Add more stock if needed. Adjust the salt to taste. Drop a small ball into a glass of cold water. If it floats, then the masa is done. If not, keep mixing with your hands for another few minutes and then try again.
Drain the corn husks and set up an assembly line.
Place a corn husk on the palm of your hand with the tapered end facing you. Using a large spoon, spread several tablespoons of masa across the husk from side to side and about two-thirds of the way down. Place a helping of meat down the center of the masa, and add olives if desired. Fold the sides over, making sure the masa covers the meat. Finally, fold up the bottom and place on a tray.
When you have about three dozen assembled, place them standing upright in a tamale or steamer pot with water in the bottom. Cover the top of the tamales with damp corn husks, and then cover and place over high heat until the water begins to boil. Turn the heat to low and steam for 45 minutes while you continue to assemble more tamales.
Once the tamales have steamed, gently remove from the pot and lay on a large tray to cool. The masa will set up as they cool. At this point, the tamales may be served or frozen.
To serve, open the husk and scrape out the tamal and any extra masa. Garnish with chili sauce, olives, cheese, onions, lettuce, or whatever you desire. To heat frozen tamales, place in a steamer pot with a small amount of water and steam for about 30 minutes or until heated through.
Red Chile Sauce
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup flour
1 cup chile powder, hot, mild, or a combination, depending on your taste
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic salt
In a large skillet heat the oil and sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly until the flour is lightly browned. Stir in the chile powder and cook for one more minute, stirring constantly. Add the water, salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic salt. Cook another few minutes until the sauce has thickened.
This sauce is versatile and can be used for enchiladas, smothering burritos, or making other Southwestern specialties in addition to tamales. It freezes well.
Marilyn Noble is the author of four cookbooks, including Southwest Comfort Food, Slow and Savory and is Rio Nuevo’s cookbook and blog editor. She grew up on the border and splits her time between her current home in Colorado and her native Arizona.
Cast Iron Turducken
From the always-creative mind of Chef Ryan Clark comes this savory Southwestern cassoulet. Unlike the bird-in-a-bird-in-a-bird construction most people think of when they hear the word turducken, this savory dish layers flavors – turkey machaca made from legs simmered in duck fat, chicken chorizo, and to finish it off, a touch of decadent foie gras butter.
This isn’t a last-minute, throw-it-together dish. You may have to work a little to find quality ingredients, but we’ll give you some suggestions to get you started. While the ingredient list is long (and extravagant) and the steps are many, the actual cooking is straightforward and simple. The nice thing about serving this at your holiday party is that you can prepare the machaca, chorizo, and tepary beans days in advance, and then finish the cooking in about 30 minutes. It takes planning, time, and lots of love, but isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
Turkey Confit Machaca
4 turkey legs, about 2 pounds
1/4 cup cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 ounce Basic Cure (See note)
2 quarts rendered duck fat (See note)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
2 limes, juice and zest
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
Rub the turkey legs with the toasted cumin seeds and Basic Cure. Place the legs in a 1-gallon plastic zipper bag for 3 days, turning over every day and distributing the liquid. After 3 days, remove the legs from the bag, rinse off the liquid, and place in the refrigerator on a kitchen towel. Air dry for at least 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees F.
In a small saucepan, warm the duck fat until melted. Place the turkey legs in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Pour the warmed duck fat over the legs until they’re covered. Place in the oven and cook at a very low simmer for 8 hours. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. The meat should fall from the bones and be exceedingly tender. Remove the turkey meat from the bones and discard the bones and skin.
In a large stock pot, simmer the turkey meat, red onion, jalapeno, red bell pepper, cumin, paprika, lime juice and zest, cilantro, and chicken stock. Reduce until the liquid has completely evaporated. Remove from heat and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Basic Cure – Combine a half pound of kosher salt, half cup of sugar, and an ounce of pink curing salt. Store in a tightly sealed jar and use it to cure your own salmon, trout, or pork. Use 2 ounces for every 5 pounds of meat.
- Ask at your local meat market for rendered duck fat, or look for it in high-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods. You can also source it online at Hudson Valley Foie Gras. You can save the duck fat for other uses (like roasted potatoes) by straining it and keeping it in a tightly-sealed jar in the refrigerator or freezer.
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, or 1 pound ground chicken
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon annatto, ground
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 cloves garlic
Grind together the chicken thighs, cayenne, paprika, annatto, chile pepper flakes, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. Cover and chill 1 hour. If you’re using ground chicken, mince the garlic and then combine all of the ingredients by hand. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the turducken, up to three days.
1 quart chicken stock
2 ounces oil
1/2 cup shallots, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup white wine
2 cups cooked tepary beans (See note)
2 jalapenos, sliced
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 11/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup foie gras butter (Recipe follows)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan and cook until reduced by half. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat a large cast iron pot and add the oil. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until tender. Add the chicken chorizo and sauté until the meat is cooked and resembles cooked ground beef, 6-8 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the turkey machaca, tepary beans, jalapenos, and reduced chicken stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Fold in the asparagus and foie gras butter, add the salt and pepper to taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Remove from the heat and serve from the pot with a rustic grilled bread loaf for dipping.
Foie Gras Butter
Makes 1 pound
Be sure to source your foie gras from a company like Hudson Valley Foie Gras that raises ducks humanely. If you buy a whole liver, you can slice and grill it and then use the scraps for making this delectable treat, which works well to finish risottos and sauces, or even as a spread for a loaf of grilled rustic bread.
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1/2 pound foie gras scraps
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon brandy
Let the butter and foie gras come to room temperature.
Using a standing mixer with a paddle, whip the foie gras and butter on medium-high speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the salt, thyme, and brandy. Whip again 30 seconds until combined.
Roll in parchment paper or place in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to one week.
You’ll find this recipe, along with many other inventive Southwest dishes in Modern Southwest Cooking by Chef Ryan Clark.
Many thanks to everyone who entered our fall photo contest. As always, you showed us what it means to appreciate the beauty of the Western U.S. We’re always impressed by the creativity and quality of your photos, both from the pros and the amateurs.
Congratulations to our weekly winners — picking one photo was always a tough undertaking for our editorial team. So now it’s time to announce our grand prize winner, chosen from the six weekly winners. Tom White is a regular on our Facebook page — he submits photos for the enjoyment of our audience even when we’re not having a contest, and we’re pleased to award the grand prize to Tom for his image of Fall at Lockett Meadows. Tom, please email aarond – at – rionuevo.com and he’ll get a selection of Rio Nuevo books in the mail to you. We’ll also arrange time for an interview so we can profile you and your work on our blog.
It’s always fun to see which images resonate with our friends and followers, and this time around, the people’s choice award goes to Sarah Dolliver for her week five entry, a photo of Sedona’s red rocks. Sarah is no stranger to our pages, either. She was the grand prize winner of our first photo contest, and we’re looking forward to catching up with her and seeing what’s new in her life, both photographic and personal. Sarah, we’ll get a book collection out to you and we’ll be in touch to arrange an interview.
Thanks to everyone for entering, voting, and otherwise following our contest!
by Marilyn Noble
Among the many reasons to be grateful for living in the Southwest is the fact that for many of us, Thanksgiving is warm and sunny and perfect for grilling. Cooking the turkey on the grill has many advantages: You free up the oven for other dishes, you avoid the mess of having to clean a greasy roasting pan at the end of the day, and you can spend time outside on a day when people in colder climes are huddled next to the fireplace listening to crazy Aunt Sadie droning on about her cats or the drunk uncles arguing over who’s going to win the ball game.
Grilling the turkey is easy, but takes some attention. Start with a quality bird in the twelve-to-sixteen pound range. A pastured heritage breed turkey tastes like turkey used to when Thanksgiving was at Grandma’s house, but they can run upwards of a hundred dollars. If you’re a ninety-nine-cent-a-pound turkey bargain shopper, that seems astounding, but the end result will be a delicious, succulent bird. You can also find fresh organic or pasture-raised turkeys at Whole Foods or your local meat market in the three-to-four dollar a pound range. They really are worth the expense.
Choose your favorite flavor of smoking chips. Mesquite is common in the Southwest, and hickory, oak, apple, or cherry wood deliver different, subtle flavor notes. Soak the chips in red wine, bourbon, or brandy for added nuance. (That also gives you an excuse to have a bottle open, just in case the heated debate over whether or not Peyton Manning should be benched spills out of the house and into the grill area.)
Use a digital remote thermometer. That way you can leave the grill and take care of other tasks in the house. If you don’t have one (or want to invest in one), use an instant-read thermometer and start checking the breast and thigh temperatures after about an hour and a half of cooking. The breast should come up to 165 degrees F, and the thigh should be 170.
Use indirect heat and a drip pan to keep the flames down. If you’re using charcoal, arrange the coals in a circle around the bird and put the drip pan in the middle. If you’re using gas, heat the grill to about 325 degrees F, then turn off the middle burner and place the drip pan on it. Place the turkey on the oiled cooking grate above it. Leave the grill closed as much as possible — each time you open it, the heat escapes and it slows down the cooking process.
If the bird starts getting too brown, tent it with foil.
For gravy, simmer the turkey neck with an onion, bay leaf, and salt while the turkey is on the grill. You can then use the resulting stock as a gravy base. If you don’t want to tie up a burner for several hours when you’re trying to cook everything else, buy a couple of turkey thighs a few days in advance, then make stock and freeze it until you need it.
This recipe is adapted from Southwest Comfort Food, Slow and Savory. The flavors are definitely Southwestern, but you can vary the spices to your own taste. Use a combination of rosemary, thyme, and parsley instead of the chile powder and cumin, or any combination that suits your palate. If you don’t want to do it on the grill, this recipe also works beautifully in the oven.
Barbecued Southwestern Turkey
1 turkey, 12-16 pounds, fresh or thawed, if previously frozen
1 cup softened butter
2 tablespoons red chile powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 orange, cut into eighths, peel on
1 apple, cored and sliced
1 onion, quartered
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Make the compound butter. In a bowl, mix the butter, chile powder, cumin, garlic, black pepper, and salt until well combined. Set aside.
Remove the package of giblets and the neck from the turkey. Rinse the turkey and pat dry inside and out. Rub the butter on the inside cavity, and then, using your hands, loosen the skin beginning with the breast, and rub the remaining butter under the skin over the entire turkey. Place the orange, apple, and onion in the cavity of the bird, making sure not to overstuff. The heat needs to be able to circulate through the cavity. Cover the wing tips and leg ends with foil so they don’t char. Don’t truss the legs together because the turkey won’t cook evenly.
Heat the grill, either gas or charcoal, using the indirect method, to about 325 degrees F. Place a drip pan under the grate where the turkey will sit. When the grill is heated, add some smoking chips if desired. Place the digital thermometer into the breast of the turkey under the wing, and place the turkey breast side up on the grate above the drip pan. Close the grill.
Keep an eye on the temperature, checking once after about 90 minutes to make sure the skin isn’t getting too brown. If you’re using charcoal, add more as needed to keep the temperature constant. The total cooking time should be three to four hours.
When the breast temperature is 165 degrees F, remove the turkey from the grill, tent with foil, and allow to rest for twenty to thirty minutes before carving.
Marilyn Noble is Rio Nuevo’s cookbook and blog editor, and has written four cookbooks including Southwest Comfort Food and The Essential Southwest Cookbook. She is also the co-chair of the Southwest/Mountain Ark of Taste committee and the Colorado governor for Slow Food USA.
Congratulations to Dawn Santiago, our final weekly winner in the fall photo contest. It was another hard decision this week — there were so many creative and well-executed interpretations of brown, gray, and black. We liked Dawn’s owl because his baleful stare seems to be warning the photographer to back off, but she persisted in taking his portrait anyway. Dawn, your image will be considered for the grand prize, which will be announced next Friday. Please email aarond – at – rionuevo.com and he’ll send you your book.
Don’t forget — the voting for the people’s choice award continues until next Wednesday at midnight. If you didn’t win one of our weekly contests, you still have a chance. Remind your friends to add their likes to your photos on our Facebook page. We’ll announce that winner next Friday also.
This brings our 2015 fall photo contest to a close. We hope you’ve had as much fun with it as we have, and we thank everyone who took the time to enter. Stay tuned for our next project.
Last week our theme was red, and we had several great entries. We liked Heather Dunn’s Tubac Cafe because it combines both a brilliant pop of red and a distinctly Southwestern feel with the adobe walls. The hummingbird feeder in the window is a nice added touch. Congratulations, Heather! Please email aarond – at – rionuevo.com and your prize will be in the mail. Your image is also in the running for the grand prize.
We’re in the last week of our contest, and the theme is brown, gray, and black. This one should stimulate your creativity, so send us your best shots before Wednesday at midnight. We’ll announce the winner next Friday. Good luck!
The transitory colors of fall are coming to an end, as is our photo contest. The first snow has fallen in many parts of the West, leaving behind bare trees, leaden skies, and monochrome meadows. To celebrate our slide into the darkness of winter, our theme this week is brown, gray, and black.
As always, post your photos before midnight next Wednesday on our Facebook page, and encourage your friends to like their favorites. We’ll announce the final weekly winner next Friday, and then, the following week, we’ll announce our grand prize and peoples choice winners.
Congratulations to Sarah Dolliver, our week four winner. The theme was rust, and this image gives us the feeling of the old days in the West with the mottled and rusty hood of a land shark. The hood ornament is both cobwebbed and polished, adding an interesting counterpoint to the rusty steel. Nice shot, Sarah! You know what to do to claim your prize, and your photo will be entered in the grand prize competition.
Our contest is in it’s fifth and next-to-last week, and the theme is red. Show us what that means to you. We’ve had some great entries already, and we’d love to see more.