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Tamales Nortenos

1 package dried corn husks

4 cups masa harina
4 cups lukewarm water
4 teaspoons Wyler's granulated chicken boullion
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups lard or vegetable shortening

2 ounces ancho chile, dried
2 ounces pasilla chile, dried
2 ounces guajilla chile, dried
2 ounces New Mexican red chile, dried

1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder or beef shoulder roast
1/2 large onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
2 teaspoons salt
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 tablespoons ground chile seasoning
4 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening

The dried husks are brittle and must be soaked in water to soften
them before they can be rolled into tamales. In the package, the
husks for a whole ear of corn are usually pressed together. Separate
the individual husks being careful not to break them, since they
are fragile when dry.

Place the separated husks in a large pot and cover with hot water.
Leave them to soak for about one hour. You can put a plate with a
heavy object on it on top of the tamales to keep them submerged.
When soft, rinse the husks well and put back into a pot of clean

Toast the dried chiles on a hot cast-iron griddle for a few minutes
on each side. Be careful not to burn the chiles or they will have
a bitter taste. As the chiles toast, they will become soft and
pliable and may puff up. Put aside to cool. The chiles will become
very crisp and brittle when cooled.

When cool, remove the seeds and stems and crumble into small pieces.
Put the pieces into a coffee mill or spice grinder and grind into
a fine powder. Store the ground chile mix in a jar to use for
seasoning other Mexican dishes.

You can use a variety of meats for making tamales. I use either
beef or chicken, but pork is traditional. I also use vegetable
shortening, although again, lard is traditionally used in Mexico.
Cut the meat into 1" to 2" chunks. Heat the lard or shortening in
a heavy bottomed pot and brown the meat. When brown, add enough
water to cover the meat and add the onions and garlic. Simmer until
the meat is fork tender and flakes apart. For beef shoulder roast
this will take about 2 - 3 hours.

While the meat is cooking, toast the cumin seeds on a cast iron
griddle and then grind into a fine powder using a coffee mill or
spice grinder and set aside.

When the meat is cooked tender, set aside to cool. Separate the
meat chunks from the broth, reserving the broth. Shred the meat
into small strands.

Heat 2 tablespoons of lard or shortening in a heavy pan, preferably
cast iron. Add the chile seasoning and cumin and stir for a few
seconds. Add the meat and fry for two or three minutes. Add the
reserved broth and simmer until the liquid level is reduced. The
mixture should be soupy. Set aside to cool while you make the masa.

Combine masa, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Dissolve the boullion
in the lukewarm water to make a broth. Mix the broth into the masa
a little at a time, working with your fingers to make a moist dough.

In a small bowl, beat lard or shortening until fluffy, add to masa
and beat until masa has a spongy texture.

Remove a soaked corn husk from the water and shake to remove excess
water. Start with the largest husks because they will be easier
to roll. If you end up with a lot of small husks, you can lay two
together, overlapping about 1/2" but this is a little trickier and
may take some practice. Lay the husk flat on a plate and spread
about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons (depending on the size of the husk)
of masa in the center. Don't use too much! The easiest way to spread
the masa is to spoon it onto the husk and spread it with your
fingers. If the masa is sticky, wet your hands.

Add about 1 tablespoon of meat filling on top of the masa. Again,
don't use too much.

Now comes the tricky part. Roll the corn husk so that the filling
is enclosed in the masa. Don't worry if the filling is not completely
surrounded with masa. When the masa cooks it will become firm and
the tamale will be fine. Fold over each end. If the husks are very
thick, you may find it difficult to fold the large end and get it
to stay. If this is the case, don't worry about folding the large
end and put that end up when you put the tamales into the steamer.

Load the tamales into a steamer standing them up vertically. I use
a large pot with a steamer basket in the bottom. When all the
tamales are rolled, and the steamer is full, cover with a damp
cloth and steam until the tamales are done, about 2 to 3 hours.
During steaming it is very important to keep the water at a low
boil. Also, DO NOT let the steamer boil out of water.

TIP: Place a coin, a penny works good, in the bottom of the steamer
with the water. You can tell when the water is boiling because you
can hear the coin rattling around. If the coin stops rattling, the
water has boiled away and you should add more.

After about 2 hours, you may want to pull out a tamale and sample
it. Let it cool for a few minutes and then unroll the husk. The
tamale should be soft and firm and not mushy.


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