The Mexican tradition of tamales at Christmas has carried over into many homes in southern Arizona. My parents make their own in December, but we usually have them on the first time all of the family are in town; that usually means the night my brother arrives from NYC.
I asked if I could help with the preparation a couple of years ago. It may have been before I began this blog because I don’t remember taking any pictures. My parents cook the meat one day and do the assembly the next. Even so, it’s labor intensive, and reminds me of pierogi making. It’s best done with many hands. Even Rick Bayless says don’t make them by yourself, adding that it’s a ritual suited for a collective, special occasion. I have a few in the freezer that will be packed for Poland soon.
Thanks, Mom, for sharing your recipe!
Chile Con Carne – Meat Filling for Tamales:
2 pounds lean pork
2 pounds lean beef
2 tablespoons (or more) lard
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 cloves garlic
2 cups red chile sauce (Las Palmas or any other good brand)
4 cups cold water in which the meat was cooked
- Cut the meat in small pieces, not more than an inch
- Braise in hot lard in small batches, so that it browns a bit, transfer to stock pot as each batch is braised
- Add salt, garlic, and enough water to cover
- Simmer unti the beef is tender (the pork will be done by then)
- Drain, reserving ALL of the liquid
- If all the lard is gone from the pan the meat was browned in, add a couple of spoons more and when it’s hot, add the flour and cook to a golden brown.
- Add the flour mixture, the chile sauce, and 4 cups of the reserved water (you’ll use more of the reserved water below) back into the meat, stir and simmer another hour or so
- Cool enough to handle
- Shred each cube of meat, removing the garlic when you come to it
- The filling should be the consistency of slightly runny gravy
- Refrigerate until cold or overnight
5 pounds masa, or 5 pounds masa harina plus water to make a pliable dough
1 1/2 cups lard
1 cup beef stock, more or less (use the reserved water the meat was cooked in)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
chilled chile con carne
pitted green olives (optional)
- A heavy-duty mixer is needed for this.
- Before you start, place the corn husks in warm water to soften. The sink works best. There are usually some silks remaining, remove all that you can
- Place lard in a large mixer bowl, beat until VERY light and fluffy
- Add masa (or the dough made from the masa harina), the baking powder, salt, and beef stock, mix thoroughly (probably 3-4 minutes). It should be slightly fluffy, add a bit more liquid if needed
- Spread the masa mixture, just less than 1/4 inch thick, on a well-drained corn husk, covering about 2/3 of the husk, don’t do all the way to the top or bottom
- Spread a heaping tablespoon of the chili con carne down the middle of the masa
- If you’re using green olives, add one to the middle of the chile con carne
- Fold the two sides into the center and roll up
- Fold up the bottom, and place upright in a steamer (or freeze at this point – when ready to use, thaw and steam)
- Steam for about 60 minutes over low heat; they’re done when the corn husks come away from the masa cleanly
Makes approximately 5 dozen tamales
An accountant by trade and a food blogger since 2009, Lois Britton fell in love with Polish cuisine during the years she lived in Poznań, Poland. As the creator of PolishHousewife.com, she loves connecting readers with traditional Polish recipes. Lois has a graduate certificate in Food Writing and Photography from the University of South Florida. She is the author of The Polish Housewife Cookbook, available on Amazon and on her website.
Tamales – always perfect for the New Year! Maybe you can solve a mystery for me, Lois… Why do folks here put the olive in the tamal? Tamales in TX didn’t feature an olive, so it was a surprising (and fun – though dangerous, since most those I’ve had aren’t pitted)change for me.
Melinda – I’ve wondered about this olive tradition too. I think in part if may be for the sharp zing of flavor and color it adds to a brown dish.
I’ve also read that the tamale can be seen as a symbol of the Virgin Mary and the olive, Jesus, who is about to be born at Christmas. Can anyone verify or add to this?
Love tamales! The best ones I’ve had were sold out of the trunk of a car at the grocery store by two adorable Mexican ladies. Oddly enough, the store didn’t mind and the neighborhood loved them.
Vicki – same here; there is often someone in front of our Walgreen’s selling tamales or homemade tortillas.