Tamales are signature Southwest fare for the holidays, and what could be more fun that to muster your best cowgirl pals for a festive “tamalada”—a traditional tamale-making party! Start here with classic pork tamales, but the variety of fillings is limitless, and includes vegetarian options, cheese, chicken, and beef. When it comes time to make the tamales, many hands make light work, and each of you can go home with a passel of these tasty treats.
For the Guajillo-Árbol Sauce (make in advance)
12 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
6 dried chiles de árbol (rat tail chiles), stemmed and seeded
4 tablespoons safflower oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and quartered
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 cup chicken stock, or more as needed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat and add the chiles, stirring to moisten. Return to a boil and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 30 minutes. Drain the chiles, reserving the liquid.
In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles in the skillet. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and fry for 2 to 4 minutes, until fragrant. Add the onions, garlic, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Place the quartered tomatoes skin side up on a rimmed baking sheet and broil for 5 to 7 minutes, until the skins crack and blister. Drain in a colander.
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the chiles, 2 cups of the blistered tomatoes, the onion mixture, and the pineapple and purée for several minutes. Pour the purée back into the saucepan and add the agave nectar, 2 cups of the reserved chile liquid, and enough stock to achieve a pourable consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool to room temperature.
For the Pork Filling (make in advance):
3 to 4 pounds pork shoulder
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons safflower oil
2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
4 cups vegetable stock or water
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Cut the meat into two-inch chunks and salt and pepper all sides. Sear the meat in the oil in a large, heavy cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer to a Dutch oven, or a roaster with a lid.
Add the onions and garlic, and pour in enough stock or water to come halfway up the meat. Braise for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat shreds easily with a fork. Transfer the roasting pan to the stovetop, and when the meat has cooled to the touch, remove it from the broth and transfer to a bowl. Reserve the braising liquid to use in the sauce and masa recipes.
Shred the meat with a fork. Combine enough sauce with the shredded pork so it has a moist, but not runny, consistency. Reserve the remainder of the sauce to serve with the tamales.
For the Tamales:
6 dozen corn husks (you’ll need extras, as some will tear)
1 1/2 cups lard, at room temperature
4 cups non-GMO organic masa harina (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Make the tamales: Put the corn husks in a very large bowl in the sink—or just stopper a clean sink—and cover with very hot water. Weigh down the husks with a pie plate filled with hot water. Let the husks soften for at least 30 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk attachment, beat the lard on high speed for 4 minutes, or until fluffy. Continue to beat, drizzling in 1 cup of the reserved pork braising liquid a little at a time, so that it incorporates into the fat—this is a crucial step. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove the whisk and replace it with the flat beater.
Combine the masa harina, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. With the mixer set on medium-high, add the masa harina mixture to the bowl of the mixer, a few tablespoons at a time, alternating with 1 cup reserved braising liquid. Continue to beat on medium-high for a few minutes more, until the masa has the texture of spackle. To test if it’s ready, pinch off about a half- teaspoonful and drop it into a cup of very cold water. If it floats, it’s ready to spread. If it doesn’t, beat a few minutes more, adding a small amount more of the braising liquid.
Drain the husks, place them in a large bowl, and cover with a moist towel. The husks will be fan-shaped and smooth on the inside. Select husks that are 4 to 5 inches wide and spread about 1/3 cup masa on the inside of the wide end (I use an ice-cream scoop about three-quarters full), leaving a 1-inch-wide strip open along one side. Line 2 tablespoons of the filling down the center of the masa and roll the husk over it, with the open strip to the outside. Twist the narrow end of the husk, tuck it under the tamale, and place on a baking sheet. Repeat to use the rest of the masa and filling.
After filling each baking sheet, place the tamales in the freezer for 15 minutes or more to firm up, then vacuum-seal them (or place in freezer bags) by the half-dozen.
To prepare, transfer the tamales from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Steam them seam-side down, for 1 hour 30 minutes in a tamale steamer, making sure the water doesn’t touch the tamales and that the tamales don’t touch each other. If you don’t have a tamale steamer, place a cake rack on top of inverted ramekins in your boiling pot to make your own. Watch your steamer carefully and add water as needed so it doesn’t run dry.
Serve hot tamales with additional Guajillo-Árbol Sauce and the green sauce of your choice.
Find this and more than 175 other organic wild game, seafood, foraged foods, and garden fare recipes in The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L. Ebert (Welcome Books, 2016), available in the Cowgirl magazine store.