Roll ‘em Up!
There is a great way to teach your friends and dole out handmade gifts at the same time: host a tamale-making party.
Last November, the staffers at Latino Perspectives gathered at Norma Morales’ home for an evening of tamale making.
Norma had made beans, rice and sweets ahead of time, as well as a huge bowl of red chile con carne and masa, ready to spread. Guests brought wine and the makings of margaritas. With holiday music going, we undertook the tamale task at hand with zest. Not only did we have a blast, each guest left with a bag of fresh tamales, ready to steam.
Here’s how you can do the same:
Planning is essential to make the evening go easily. If that means you buy ready-to-spread masa and cleaned, trimmed hojas (corn husks) to save time, then do it — the party should be as much fun for the host as it is for the participants.
Should you decided to prepare your own masa, ready it a few days ahead and keep it tightly covered in a large bowl in the refrigerator. Figure the masa will yield 10 to 12 tamales per pound (depending on how thick your guests spread it) so that you’ll prepare enough for everyone to use on their tamales.
Cleaned and trimmed husks are more expensive (about $8 for 10 dozen), but save time. These can be soaked in hot water ahead of time, wrapped in a clean dish towel, and stashed in the fridge until about 30 minutes before party time, when they can be spread out on the counter and brought to room temperature. If you like to use paper as an extra wrap, purchase a couple of packets.
Have as many spreading spoons ready as there are guests. Norma also provided traditional aprons, which made for some funny photos.
Put the fillings in bowls, ready to go:
Red chile con carne (shredded beef or pork, made ahead with lots of garlic)
Cooked, shredded chicken
Strips of green chile
Whole pitted olives
Raisins or drained chunks of piña (pineapple)
Make sure to demonstrate to novices how to spread masa and fill the hoja, but allow the participants to experiment mixing ingredients a bit on their own dozen. For example, they may want to try layering refried beans with pineapple, green chile strips and cheese (for vegetarians). Or maybe a meat lover’s filling of red chile and chicken.
Of course, as the holiday cheer is imbibed, things can get a bit sloppy, so assign someone to check each tamale before it is rolled up and wrapped in the paper. (At our party, some people who hated olives were alarmed at how many were being thrown in each tamale; it helps to have a fillings policia.) If people want to try their hands at rolling up the tamales, allow them a few tries to absorb the experience. Using papers as a final wrap allows guests to practice the art of rolling, too.
Purchase airtight freezer storage bags that can be resealed; once the fresh tamales are made, they can be counted off by the dozen and bagged. (Be careful not to crowd the tamales, as the uncooked masa could seep out the ends of the husks.)
It’s wise to print up cooking instructions ahead of time (about 45 minutes of steaming), so that departing guests will have something to which they can refer when ready to cook their tamales. After the LPM party one of our staffers mistakenly thought he needed to boil the tamales — “and I still ate them,” he recalls now.