Contrary to what some people believe, tamales do not come in a can. Yes, the label on the cans reads “tamales,” but the difference between canned tamales and those made by hand is much like that of canned shrimp versus genuine Louisiana trawler-harvested shrimp. They’re shrimp by name, but that’s about the only similarity.
Getting the kitchen area set up for tamale production is a bit time-consuming. It’s best done with a few people who each have a task. With everyone on board, making tamales goes quickly. And as long as the kitchen is set up to make tamales, make a big pile of them. They can be steamed, cooled, packaged and frozen for future consumption. Don’t let the length of this recipe scare you off. The process is actually simple, but a little explanation in the beginning will make production easier.
The Masa (The Dough)
To prepare the masa, pick up a bag at the grocery store, and follow the directions on the bag for tamale dough. I start with 2 cups masa harina flour, 2/3 cup melted shortening, 1 1/4 cups warm chicken broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Start mixing with a fork, but eventually you’ll need to get in there with your hands to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed. The masa should be the consistency of moist cookie dough. If it’s too dry, add a little more chicken broth. Too wet, mix in a little more masa harina flour.
The Corn Husks
Dried corn husks are available in grocery stores and Hispanic markets. If you can’t find them in yours, try it with fresh corn husks or parchment paper cut into a large triangle about the size of an outside corn husk.
Tamales can be stuffed with any cooked deer meat — ground, shredded, or cubed. It should be tender to the bite before stuffing, or the cooked tamales will be chewy. Tougher cuts need to be simmered or braised until soft before adding to the stuffing.