Tamales Norteños


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These homemade tamales are a lot of work, but deliciously worth it. If you don't love pork, try them with chicken, beef or refried beans.

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  • Meat:
  • 4-5 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • Seasoning:
  • 5 guajillo chilies
  • 8 ancho chilies
  • 1/2 C. pork broth
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 lb. pork lard
  • 1/2 tsp. whole pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. whole comino
  • Salt to taste
  • Masa (dough):
  • 1 4.4 lb. pkg. masa (instant corn tortilla mix)
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 2 1/2 lb. pork lard
  • 7 1/2 C. pork broth
  • 12 oz. dried corn shucks (these must be soaked in water 1 - 2 hours before use)

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To prepare the filling, boil the pork shoulder in a large stockpot with the onion, garlic, bay leaves and salt. When it is well cooked (about 1 hour of cooking time), remove the meat from the broth. Reserve broth for later use. Remove meat from the bones. Discard bones. With a meat grinder, grind the cooked pork. (If you don't have a meat grinder, mince the meat as finely as possible with a knife, or grind in a food processor.) To prepare the meat filling seasoning: Boil the chilies together until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the stems, and add chilies to the container of a blender. Add in the 1/2-C. pork broth and garlic, and puree well (add more broth if necessary to facilitate blending.) Strain puree through a wire strainer to extract any seeds. In a spice grinder or molcajete, grind pepper, garlic, and comino with some salt. Make sure the mixture is finely ground. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat 1/2 lb. lard. When melted, add the ground spice mixture and sauté for 20 seconds. Add in chili puree, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add in ground pork, combining well. Adjust seasonings. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. Set aside.

To prepare the masa, pour the contents of the package of masa into a very large bowl (I use a metal turkey roaster pan). Add in the baking powder and salt. Knead the lard in with your hands. Add in the broth one C. at a time. You may need a bit more or less broth. The masa is ready when the dough no longer sticks to your hands, and is smooth and delicate to the touch.

To assemble the tamales, dry off some of the corn shucks, and place a few within reach. To make a proper tamale, the corn shuck bottom edge should be around 8 inches wide. Discard those that are too narrow, and tear bits off of the ones that are too wide. Take a corn shuck, and spread the bottom 2/3 of the leaf with 3- 4 Tbs. of masa. Leave a 1 1/2 inches wide area along one edge free of masa. Spread the masa thinly. Place line of about 2 Tbs. of the filling, following the direction of the corn shuck veins, on the spread masa, towards the center of the prepared shuck. Fold the edge of the prepared shuck over the filling, then roll up towards the edge of the shuck with no masa. Fold down the top flap. Continue until all the tamales have been formed.

Place tamales in a large steamer basket. Boil water in the bottom of the steamer. As a top layer, cover the tamales with extra corn shucks, then with a sheet of plastic wrap. Secure the lid of the steamer, using foil around the edges of the lid to prevent the escape of steam. Place the steamer over the boiling water. Steam the tamales for about 40 minutes, until the masa is firm.

Yield: 16 dozen

Tip: If you have leftover masa, you can make tamales out of refried beans instead of meat. Or concoct your own filling using leftover cooked chicken, beef, pork, or venison. Just mince or grind the meat, and add spices and a little leftover chile puree. Be creative. Write down what you do. You may like it and want to do it again!

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