Q:Chef, Last year, my family vacationed in Cancun, and the food was fabulous. The chef there gave me a recipe for making tamales, but every time I make them, they fall apart and are mushy. Can you help me with my tamale recipe?
A:We’ll, I’ve been working on a new recipe for an upcoming charity beer dinner. I’ve made some adjustments to the traditional Mexican tamales, but the flavors are as deep and rich as the history of the tamale, which was first made by the Mayas and Aztecs more than 10,000 years ago.
5 lbs. short ribs
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
8 oz. fresh ginger, minced
2 T sugar
2 1/2 c mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 1/2 c sake
2 1/2 c soy sauce
1 qt. beef stock
3 T roux
8 c Maseca tamales mix
2 c warm water
1 t baking soda
1 T canola oil
12 fresh dried tobacco leaves (cut in half to make 24 pieces, soaked twice in warm water for 20 minutes each) or 24 corn husks (soaked in warm water for 2 hours, replacing water as needed to keep warm)
To prepare ribs: Sear ribs in hot pan and place in braising pan. Add vegetables, and blend together sugar and remaining wet ingredients, and pour over ribs. Cook in a 250-degree oven for three hours or until meat is tender and falling off the bone. Remove meet from bone and shred. Place in bowl.
Strain 4 cups of the braising liquid and heat to a slow boil. Whisk in the 3 tablespoons of roux and let thicken. Add reduced liquid to shredded short rib and reserve at room temperature.
To prepare tamales: Combine the Maseca mix with baking soda thoroughly before adding the water and oil. Blend ingredients together until they form a nice ball of dough. You may need to adjust water, depending on room temperature. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Making your tamales:
Portion the dough into pieces (the size of a large lemon), creating a pocket to put about a tablespoon of the short rib mix into the center of the masa dough. As you are forming the masa around you, begin to shape it into a flattened egg shape.
Place each piece into a softened corn husk and fold the leaf around the dough. Form all the tamales and place into steamer basket over hot, steaming water. Cover and let steam for about 10 to 12 minutes. When done, the masa will have the consistency of moist corn bread.
I wrap my tamales in tobacco leaves and steam them over a nice dark Mexican beer like Negra Modelo. The addition of the tobacco and beer will give more depth to an already great dish. A warning: Using tobacco in this manner can be hazardous to your health for the same reason as smoking.