Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!
You may have noticed I skipped out on the last couple of Daring Kitchen challenges. Up until then, I had only skipped one challenge (the croquembouche one, which I still intend to make someday). But toward the end of 2011, there was just too much going on, and I was barely cooking at all. However, with the new year, I was ready to get back on track and get back to the kitchen.
I’ll just announce is right now so that you won’t be shocked when you get to the end of this post: it was a disaster.
I love Mexican food, but had never eaten, let alone made tamales. I wasn’t even sure what they were. Basically, they consist of a filling wrapped inside a corn flour dough, which is itself wrapped inside a rehydrated corn husk, then steamed. Sounded easy enough.
Up until two weeks ago, I had a pack of corn husks in my pantry, purchased on a whim at a Mexican grocery store, in one of those “Oooh, I wonder what I could do with this?” moments. They had lingered there for months, until I was seized by a rabid need to clean up the clutter that had seemingly taken over every shelf, cupboard, and drawer of the apartment, and began moving stuff around and clearing out spaces. In my enthusiasm, I chucked out the corn husks, in one of those “The hell with it, I’m never going to use this” moments. It figures that this month’s challenge called for corn husks.
Too lazy to go out and buy a new package, I decided to use parchment paper instead. In that same spirit of laziness, I opted for the proposed vegan filling, even though I made the very non-vegan lard-infused dough. Assembling the tamales was easy enough, and I used my Asian bamboo baskets for the steaming.
But when the tamales were cooked, I tasted a tiny piece of the dough, and decided I didn’t care for it much. Something about the texture, the way it came apart, and also something about the flavour... Keep in mind that I had never had tamales before, and therefore had no reference. I only knew that I wasn’t wild about what I had made. While doing some research (even when I’m lazy, I still do research, because I am a flaming geek), I found that some people liked to reheat their tamales by frying them. In my book, frying makes everything better, and crispy seemed like a better option than the crumbly, wet-yet-dry texture I had obtained. Into the oiled skillet they went.
Having lovingly stacked and photographed the tamales, Laurent and I dug in. Then stopped. Then looked at each other.
“I’ll make us something else,” I said matter-of-factly, and got up to look for those homemade gyoza I knew were in the freezer.
I now knew what the problem was. It wasn’t the recipe, it wasn’t even my technique. My masa (corn) mix had gone bad. It gave off that horrible stale, bitter, rancid aftertaste. It’s strange, because I made corn tortillas not that long ago, and they were fine; it’s hard to imagine the mix could have gone so bad so quickly. I should have noticed it while making the dough, the smell should have tipped me off. For some reason, it hadn’t. At the very least, I should have noticed it when tasting the dough right out of the steamer, but maybe the steam had temporarily masked the taste. Or maybe I was just distracted.
While I was cooking the gyoza, Laurent had fun salvaging the filling by picking it out of the tamales. He even took pictures.
So, not a particularly glorious start to the year. Obviously, this was completely my fault. But I think I’m going to order tamales from a restaurant before attempting to make them again. And, obviously, I’m going to buy a new bag of masa mix.
My thanks to Maranda for a great challenge idea, and my apologies for screwing it up so badly. If you want to look at real tamales, please look at the Daring Cooks’ blog roll. And if you want to make your own, check out the challenge recipes. Just make sure your masa mix is fresh.