Monday, January 01, 2007

Venison Tamales

Making tamales is fun, and the results are delicious. I found an instant masa flour in Schnucks called Maseca Instant Corn Masa Mix, and next to it a bag of corn husks called Palenque Corn Husks, so I figured I'd give it a try.

After attempting to make tamales for the first time a few days ago, I have learned a few things. There are some tricks to rolling tamales. The dough, or masa, can be difficult to work with, and folding up tamales in corn husks, and having them stay that way, a bit of a challenge. I don't claim to know much, but I'll share what I have learned.

First thing I've learned is that the tamale filling doesn't have to be anything remotely Mexican. Sure, if you want to make traditional tamales, you should probobly stick to the recipes you find online, but really a tamale can be stuffed with anything meaty, or maybe even some kind of vegetarian filling using tofu, and it will be good. The key thing to think about is if the flavor of the filling will go well with the strong corn flavor of the masa.

The second thing I learned is that folding the corn husks like the Maseca package suggests is not as tractable as tying the ends with strips of corn husk. This is a trick I picked up from a Mexican co-worker. It solves the problem of the husks wanting to lay flat after you're finished packaging the tamale.

Next, I figured out that it's much easier to pick out a good, smooth corn husk, get it nice and damp (not dripping), and use it to press the masa into the candidate corn husk that you're rolling in. That's because the masa will not stick to it. Pressing the masa with your hands is too messy. You could probobly use many things for this, but that's what I came to.

Also, I've found that you can pick out another nice, smooth corn husk, and use it to roll every tamale, then transfer the perfectly rolled tamale to a lesser husk for packaging. So, you have your husk you use for pressing, and the one you use for rolling, and the one you'll use to actually roll the tamale up in.

So, the process goes like this... You have your bowl of meat mixture, and a bowl of masa, and a stack of cleaned, dampened corn husks, and your two really nice big, smooth, damp corn husks, which I'll call your working husks. You put a portion of masa in the one of the working husks, then press it down flat with the other working husk, then put the meat in there, and roll the tamale up like a cigarette. The working husk acts just like a manual cigarette roller, if you've ever used one. Hard to explain in writing. Anyway, you then transfer the tamale to a husk for packaging, roll it up, and tie the ends with nice, sturdy, thin strips of corn husk, and put it in the steamer, then repeat until the steamer is full, or you run out of some resource.

Now, for the recipe...

3 cloves of garlic
1/2 large Vadalia onion
2 stalks of celery
1 tsp of olive oil
1 tsp of unsalted butter
1 jar of pressure cooked venison
2 cups water
1 tsp of kosher salt
1 handful of fresh oregano
3 fresh bay leaves

I chopped three cloves of garlic, half of a large vadalia onion, and two stalks of celery, then lightly sauteed (it was an aggressive sweat, really) that in a medium sized pot with a teaspoon each of olive oil and unsalted butter. Then I put in a jar of canned venison which was pressure cooked in its own juices (thanks Katie and Tim!). Added water until it was barely covered, threw in some kosher salt, and brought to a boil, then reduced to a simmer until it was nearly cooked down. Then added three fresh bay leaves and a handful of chopped fresh oregano, and let that simmer until there was very little juice left. Then removed it from the heat, removed the bay leaves, and strained it to remove any fluid that the meat couldn't hold. I wanted it moist, but not messy.

Now, get to rollin' those tamales! It takes a few to get into the rhythm. I use a bamboo steamer, so once it's filled, I've rolled all I can. Steam them for an hour, refrigerate (or eat) the finished product, and refill those steamers until all the masa is gone.

Good and yummy for lunch, dinner, or snack. My tamales were a bit dry the first time I made them, so I used the parsley sauce I mentioned in my last blog, and that worked pretty well (they were made with ground beef and green serrano peppers). I did make the masa with less broth (chicken) than the recipe called for, because I thought the dough was not supposed to be so soft, but this time I used the whole two cups it calls for, so they're nice and moist. Anyway, a tamale with sauce is better than one without. I think for the venison tamales, a robust wine sauce would be nice, but I don't have any wine, so I'll have to come up with something. OK, timer just went off, time to eat!

Update: These are seriously good tamales. Even without a sauce.

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