Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wisconsin 101: This is how we make tamales

You guys, I have always wanted to go to a tamalada. That is an afternoon - and, apparently, an evening - spent making tamales.

I had my chance recently when Christina the Nighttime Wife's mom Mrs B said she was going to make tamales. I met Mrs B when she cooked the heart and tongue that our friends Bonnie and Gary gave to us last summer when they bought half a beeve that came with all the organs. I took the heart and tongue because my mom, who grew up on a farm where nothing was wasted, wanted them, but then my mom ended up not visiting and I was not going to put organs in the mail to Colorado so I gave them away to the first bidder on facebook, although I have to say the bidding was not that stiff.

It probably won't be long before some trendy hipster with a narrow goatee and a fringe of hair growing from under his chin, a wool hat, and spikes through his ears opens a restaurant devoted to nothing but organ meats and becomes super popular and rich. I will think, "I had my chance but I blew it."

But Mrs B was happy to have the meat and invited SH and me over to dinner to enjoy it. I am not a fan of weird things, even though really, tongue and heart shouldn't be that weird. Let me say that a different way: I am not a fan of unusual textures, like the texture of the surface of the tongue, and I am not a fan of gaminess, so organ meat is not for me. (But hog jowls are delicious - it's really just super thick bacon.) It was at the tongue and meat dinner that she invited me to make tamales.

Photo: Y la salsa.
The two salsas - one for the pork tamales, one for the chicken.
Photo: A tamalear.
The mise en place for the tamales. There are dried corn husks, masa harina, and cooked pork that we pulled and chopped for the filling.
I was really excited. When Christina gave me the date, I mentally booked three hours. After all, Mrs B had said it only takes a few hours.

I forgot that Mrs B is Mexican and she runs on the same time system as SH does, which is like football time: two minutes in football time is like 20 minutes in real person time.

Photo: Mas tamales.
The Nighttime Wife and SH dry the cornhusks.
SH dropped me off at Mrs B's house. The idea was he would leave me there at 2:00 and return at 5:00 to eat.

But he walked in to say hello and ended up being impressed into prepping cornhusks. Meanwhile, Mrs B was working on the sauce. She put me to work shredding the pork into small pieces.

Then we started making the masa. SH left, thinking he would return very soon to a meal of fresh tamales.

Mrs B poured 15 pounds of masa harina into a huge pot. She directed me to dump a big bowl of lard into the pot. She threw in some salt and some baking soda, then rolled up her sleeves and plunged both arms into the mixture. She told me to get some of the broth from cooking the pork and dump it in the mixture. I poured it in and she mixed.

Let me note for the record, Mrs B is not a young woman. She is older than I am and probably does not go to the gym to lift weights. Yet when I took over the mixing for a while, I lasted about half as long as she had. She insisted that I stop and rest while she continued. She put me to shame.

Photo: We're still not done.

She finished mixing the masa while Christina and I watched TV. Then she brought us some snacks because we were so weary.

It was time to go to the filling step. Mrs B mixed the red salsa with the cut-up pork. She showed us how to smear some masa on a cornhusk. Her smears were perfect. Mine were awful and took me three times as long as hers.

But she and I smeared while Christina filled and folded.

We filled and folded an entire table full of tamales. Then we loaded them into the huge kettle for steaming.

Photo: Getting there.

It was now 5:30. How long does it take to steam them, I asked.

Oh, only 20 minutes, Mrs B said breezily.

Christina snorted. Mom, you know it takes longer than that.

But I was happy. It had been a long afternoon. I called SH and told him to be here in half an hour for supper.

Which of course was completely wrong.

We waited. And waited. Mrs B waited for the tinfoil covering the pot to get to the appropriate point. It didn't. And didn't.

Finally, I said that maybe SH and I should just go home. Mrs B insisted we take some raw tamales with us and steam them ourselves. Which we did - and it took over an hour. Her huge pot of tamales took over three hours.

So. I have been. I have done. And I can check that off my list.

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