A few years ago I was at the checkout counter at my local Mexican shop with a full basket that included dried corn husks and a big bag of Masa. The owner asked me, what I was making. I happily replied, “Tamales”. He pointed to my bag of masa. “You see the picture on the bag, she is making tortillas,” he said. “Come with me.” He led me to the back of the store and picked up another bag of masa. “You see the picture here, she is making tamales.”
A lesson learned.
The main difference I see between the two masas is the texture of the grind. Tamale masa is a courser grind. Masa Harina is a corn flour made from hominy that is treated with slacked lime (aka calcium oxide). Mixed with water, it becomes the dough for the first stage of tamales.
I’ve been playing around with making tamales for years, with mixed results, although I’m getting more satisfied. Two things that have brought my tamales to where I want them to be are using a stand mixer and good old fashion lard. I’ve used vegetable shorting, but the lard is what really brings it all together. If you’re a vegetarian you’re going to want to stick with vegetable shorting and stock, but otherwise, a tamale needs lard.
I cream the lard and baking powder in my stand mixer. Once it’s mixed together, I put the mixer on high, adding the tamale dough and chicken stock a little at a time. I beat this until it is mixed and almost fluffy. We’re looking for a well-mixed, smooth texture.
The great thing about tamales is that you can fill them with just about anything. I like using pulled pork or duck confit, but lately, I’ve been making a dessert tamale with organic mango jam and cream cheese. Everyone who tries these loves them.
I’m not big on measuring things when cooking but here’s a basic tamale dough ingredents and what I’ve been using as my guide.
2 1/2 cups of masa for tamales
1 1/2 cups of hot water
1 cup of cold lard
2 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tea spoons of salt
1 cup of chicken stock