Make It Mexican With Roland: Tamales
This is the first installment of Mexican food tutorials with the warm and inspiring Roland Rubalcava of Rubalcava's in Placentia. Roland has agreed to take us through his favorite dishes that he learned how to make from his mother--this way, you no longer have any excuses to eat at a gabacho-fied Mexican joint again!
To kick off the series, Roland will teach us how he makes tamales, a special tradition for many Mexican families this time of year. He said the key to making tamales is "doing it with people you enjoy." It can be pretty labor-intensive, but a little help from your friends and sharing the tamales over beers when they're ready makes it all worthwhile. Let's begin.
1. Preparing the Meat and the Masa
Before anything else, prepare the meat filling that you will put inside the tamale. You can find countless of these recipes online, and it's really difficult to go wrong. Just choose whatever filling sounds the best to you. The most popular are chicken, beef, and veggie, with either red or green sauce. The amount that you must prepare does not have to be exact. Estimate that you will put one hearty scoop into each tamale and make the amount according to how many finished tamales you would like. After preparing the filling, let it sit in the fridge overnight so that it is nice and chilled when you are ready to stuff the corn husks. A cold filling is much easier to work with and especially important if you want to freeze the tamales to heat up at a later time.
The day that you plan on preparing all of the tamales is the day that you should buy your masa. You can buy pre-made or powdered masa (the vile Maseca) at the grocery store, but Roland believes fresh masa is truly the best. You want to look for Masa Preparada Quebrada, which roughly translates to coarse grind, prepared masa. You can buy this at Rubalcava's or many Mexican markets. Again, you will use one scoop of masa in each tamale, so use that to gauge the amount you will buy.
2. Soak Your Husks
Without a nice pliable cork husk, you pretty much can't make tamales. To ensure you have this flexible wrapper, simply soak them in warm water for a little while. It doesn't take that long for them to suck up the moisture. Roland recommends letting your husks soak while you go to purchase the masa. You can find husks ready to go (like in the photo above) at any Mexican market for $3-$5.
3: Fill 'Em Up
This is the part where your friends come in. When all of your ingredients are ready, start by putting masa on a husk. This task is extremely similar to frosting a cake. Roland recommends using a sushi rice spoon for this step, because it's wide and easy to work with. Holding the husk in one hand, take a generous dollop of masa and plop it in the center. Then spread it out to two of the corners in a nice thick layer. Using more masa is always good because it helps prevent the tamale from drying out. Make sure to leave one end without any masa on it, because this part will be folded later.
Next, take a big scoop of your filling and dollop it into the middle of the area you covered with masa. You don't need to spread this out because you will be wrapping the husk around it.