New tamales going full steam ahead
By VERONICA HINKE Contributor June 13, 2012 5:16PM
Chef Dudley Nieto adds some fire roasted poblano peppers and epazote to the tamale dough as a filling. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
From Chef Dudley Nieto
Fresh corn husks Tamale dough (use store-bought, prepared dough, called masa), 4 tablespoons per tamale Your favorite filling, 1 ½ tablespoons per tamale
Tamale dough (use store-bought, prepared dough, called masa), 4 tablespoons per tamale
Your favorite filling, 1 ½ tablespoons per tamale
Separate out largest and most pliable husks, choosing those that are at least 6 inches across on the wider end and 6 or 7 inches long. If you can’t find enough good ones, overlap some of the large ones to give wide, sturdy surfaces to spread the batter on. Pat husks dry with towel.
Set up steamer: Steaming husk-wrapped tamales can be done in batches in a tamales steamer or hotel pan steamer. Line rack or upper part of steamer with leftover corn husks to protect tamales from direct contact with steam and add flavor. Leave tiny spaces between husks so condensing steam can drain.
Cut 8- to 10-inch pieces of string or thin strips of corn husks.
Form the tamales: Lay out corn husks with the tapering end pointing toward you. Spread ¼ cup batter into a 4-inch square, leaving at least a 1 ½-inch border on the side toward you and a ¾-inch border along the sides (with large husks, the borders will be much bigger).
Spoon about 1 ½ tablespoons of filling down the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together (this will cause the batter to surround the filling).
If the uncovered borders of the two long sides are narrow, tuck one side under the other; if wide, roll both sides in the same direction around the tamale.
If the husk is small, wrap the tamale in a second husk. Fold up the empty
1 ½-inch section of the husk (to form a tightly closed bottom), take another corn husk and cover the opposite side and fold over, leaving room for the tamale dough to expand. Tie open ends of all tamales with prepared strings. Place them in a single layer in the prepared steamer. Allow room for them to expand.
Steam: Cover tamales with a layer of leftover corn husks. Cover pot and steam over constant medium heat for 1 ¼ hours. Watch carefully to ensure all water doesn’t boil away and to keep the steam steady. Pour boiling water into pot when necessary.
Tamales are done when husks peel away from corn meal easily. Let tamales stand in steamer, off heat, for a few minutes to firm up. For the best texture, cool completely, and then re-steam them for about 15 minutes to heat through.
Updated: June 13, 2012 5:36PM
New tamale varieties — savory and sweet — have got a full head of steam. From chocolate sauce to pineapple chunks, fillings for tamales are chugging well beyond the traditional chicken or beef.
They’re being sold in more places than the corner street vendor too. If you’re downtown, try tamales sold from the window of The Tamale Spaceship, a busy, new lunch truck circulating through Chicago’s Loop.
The cornmeal-based, steamed Mexican dumplings are becoming part of the U.S. urban snack landscape, much like they’ve always been south of the border.
“In Mexico, tamales are staple street food,” said Dudley Nieto, a respected Mexican chef in the Chicago area.
At Nieto’s San Gabriel Mexican Café in Bannockburn, his love of a wide variety of tamale flavors is reflected on his menu. This season, he’s introducing a chocolate-filled tamale. It’s a nod to history — both corn and chocolate have been used in Mexico for centuries.
Nieto also favors Tamale de Queso y Rajas, tamales filled with queso fresco cheese and thin strips of fire-roasted poblano peppers, which are indigenous to his native Puebla, Mexico. A hint of the cilantro-like Mexican herb, epazote, adds a slight lemony taste.
He loves shrimp tamales, too, the kind customarily made in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. “I like the taste of shrimp with a silky, spicy amarillito mole,” Nieto said. He likes it so much that he also braises duck meat in the same mole to make duck tamales.
Nieto learned to make tamales by helping his grandmother while growing up in Mexico, where iguana meat is even an ingredient option. He started by helping her fold corn husks, and eventually began making and flavoring the tamale dough, which is called masa. With his grandmother, Nieto sometimes used banana leaves instead of corn husks to wrap tamales. The technique is popular in Mexico’s more tropical states of Veracruz and Oaxaca.
Nieto’s mother often made uchepos, which are fresh corn tamales. She also made tamales stuffed with chicken mole or poblano pepper mole.
“Making tamales is a family event,” Nieto said, with a laugh. “Families get together to make tamales and gossip.”
To make tamales at home, Nieto suggested using store-bought, prepared masa. “It is much quicker and easier to buy prepared tamale dough at the store,” he explained. Groceries also sell husks for wrapping tamales.