Hot Tamale Time

Hot dogs and hamburgers are as all-American as the Fourth of July. I won’t dispute their appropriateness for last weekend, but let’s not forget: the frankfurter gets its name from Frankfurt, the wiener from Wien, the hamburger from Hamburg. Americans added the buns and the tweaking that gave them global prominence, but these staples did not originate on native shores. The tamale, on the other hand, was one of the first New World foodstuffs to pay a visit to the Old World — the Spaniards shipped them home as proof of civilization. Sure, that was way south of the border, but there’s nothing the U.S. grows more of than corn. Why not celebrate it with a big post-Fourth tamale blowout?

Tamales are fairly time intensive, but you can make them in large numbers, so they’re well-suited to home entertaining. The ingredient list isn’t too extensive, although you might have to poke around a bit for the corn husks and masa mix. For the masa, I went to my local Mexican bodega first. They sent me to the Chinese grocery store. When that failed, I tracked some down in a Korean deli in Park Slope. Ah, New York. There are an endless variety of legit stuffings, but as a first-timer I kept mine simple: just chicken. I boiled up a full bird and saved the broth. Six cups of it went into the dough: Basic tamale dough 6 cups chicken broth 6 cups masa mix 1 cup corn oil 1 tsp salt 1 tsp baking powder

I soaked the corn husks for a couple of hours to soften them up. When the chicken was ready (I boiled it for about two hours), I shredded it with two forks. This was easier and quicker than I thought it would be. I separated out some corn husks and spread them with the masa. My instinct was to lay it on pretty thickly, but that made for monster carb-bomb tamales. Better to take it easy, spreading out a tablespoon or two. In the middle of the dough I placed some of the shredded chicken — about a tablespoon’s worth. Folding the husk in a circle created the classic tamale shape. (My girlfriend used her vastly superior fine motor control to tie little corn husk bows around her tamales, and they looked about 100 times better than mine.) When we had a big batch ready we steamed them over some more chicken broth for about 40 minutes. A little tomatillo sauce on top, and we were very happy to be living in the Americas.

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