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.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup onion diced
- 1 cup fresh tomatillos quartered (or substitute green tomatoes or omit)
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper seeded and minced
- 1 teaspoon chile powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups cooked venison shredded or ground
- 3 cups masa
- 16 corn husks soaked in water for at least 1 hour
- large pot with lid and steamer basket or perforated insert
- In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, tomatillos, garlic and jalapeno and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Add chile powder, cumin, salt and cooked venison, and stir to blend flavors. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, and then allow to cool.
- For each tamale, lay the corn husk on a flat surface with the narrow end pointing toward you. Take about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the masa, and spread evenly along the bottom quarter of the corn husk, about 1/2 inch from any edge of the husk. In the center of the masa, place a few tablespoons of the stuffing mixture. Fold the left edge over the stuffing. The idea is to surround the stuffing with masa. Fold the right edge over, and fold the bottom up toward the center.
- Place in a hot steamer basket with the water level just under the bottom of the basket. Place tamales fold-side-down in basket, leaving a little room between each so that steam can cook each one. As they steam, check to make sure there is at least an inch or so of water in the pot. Tamales will take 25 to 40 minutes to steam, depending on how big they are. They will be soft, moist and hot when cooked and will firm up as they start to cool.