I’m not sure where my obsession with corn comes from, but I am fascinated by this human protected plant originating from Central America, that has been nourishing people for thousands of years.
I remember one summer eating corn as a young girl at my grandfather’s house in Uruguay. He would take me horse riding bareback, followed by an afternoon session of eating corn on the cob he’d thrown onto the coals of a makeshift fire pit. I loved watching him stride his way out of the cornfields just behind the main house, carrying corn so fresh they looked like they were pulsating. Without fuss and without a word he would prepare the corn to produce the most delicious corn on the cob I’d ever tasted. There were no lashings of butter or even a hint of seasoning, just sweet corn. I was addicted. Popcorn, salads, soups, corn fritters, corn bread, polenta! I love how corn is so versatile, and my favourite colour!
Later I married a Mexican water polo player from San Francisco. This marriage may have been an unconscious decision based on food, but you can imagine my joy when visiting the in-laws meant an abundance of corn and maize dishes so tasty and ingenious, my taste buds would quiver. On the first visit I was introduced to tamales, a genius Mexican invention using corn that translates to ‘wrapped food’. My husband couldn’t care less about seeing his parents, he just wanted the tamales, and now I understood why. When I opened the little parcel made of cornhusk for the first time, it felt like the moment Charlie from ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, found the last golden ticket. The steamed golden cornmeal inside the parcel contained a wonderful filling of shredded pork and Mexican spices that melted in my mouth. Not exactly like Willy Wonka chocolate, but Mexicans make sweet tamales as well! I was obsessed and made it my mission to master the art of tamale making, and now, I share the recipe with you.
My grandfather is no longer alive, and my husband is no longer my husband but I just love that one little ingredient, corn has kept these memories alive. What ingredient keeps your memories alive?
Tamales – different shapes and sizes
The classic Tamale has been interpreted in many ways since the Mexicans invented it. Here are some examples of the different shapes and sizes found all over South America using different leaves to wrap the filling. I used the traditional corn husk but made my tamales the shape of a corn cob.
Sourcing Mexican Products in Sydney
You need the right corn flour and dried corn husks to make tamales. To buy Mexican groceries online, visit the fireworks.com.au website. They have a good variety of authentic Mexican products and if you’re based in Sydney they deliver pretty quickly too.
Ingredients – approx 3 Dozen tamales
- 2 kilos pork shoulder (you can use any meat or filling you prefer) e.g beef or chicken
- 2 large onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 4 cups Minsa Mix corn flour
- 1 cup lard
- Corn husks (1 pack)
Cut the pork shoulder into large equal chunks and place into a pot or slow cooker. Add garlic, onions (quartered) tsp chilli powder, salt, pepper and cumin. Cover pork with water (I added a carton of this adobo broth to the water) and slow cook for at least 4 hours. I cooked my pork overnight in a slow cooker for 8 hours. The meat literally fell apart as I transferred it out of the pot.
Shred the pork using two forks . Set aside left over juices. Soak the corn husks before you start making the masa (dough).
To make the masa (dough) combine the corn flour and lard by using the tips of your fingers to make a course sand-like texture. Add salt and a pinch of chilli powder for an added kick. The masa will start to come together naturally but if you think the masa needs some extra moisture add small amounts of left over juices from the pork. Once you are satisfied that the masa has a smooth and spreadable consistency you can start the next step of assembling the tamales.
Assembling is quite therapeutic and fun. Its a great opportunity to start a tradition with the family just like Mexican families do.
To assemble the tamale pat dry a corn husk that has been soaking in water. Grab enough masa to make a golf ball. Press the masa down into the middle of the of the corn husk with the palm of your hand then evenly spread across the corn husk with your fingers or the back of a spoon (if your masa is more runny) until you have a thin layer. Leave 1cm – 2cm off all four edges of the husk so the contents don’t spill out when wrapping. Add 1-2 tbsp of shredded pork down the middle and roll up the corn husk so both sides of the masa meet up. Use the corn husk to neatly and firmly tuck your masa around the pork then close off the tamale at both ends tightly using cotton twine or strips of corn husk.
Steam your tamales for about 15 minutes. All other tamales can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months or until you are ready to steam!
Once steamed, un-wrap your tamales carefully. You will know the tamales are cooked when you see the masa (dough) falling away from the corn husk. Add your favourite salsa or spicy sauce and enjoy!
The amount of tamales may vary in quantity depending on how much masa (dough) is spread on the corn husk and shredded pork you use. Please always make sure you are not allergic to any foods in the ingredients provided before ingesting.