Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pablano Pepper and Chicken Tamales

I have always been under the impression that tamales were a very time consuming and formidable item to make. However, after actually making them myself, I realized I was completely wrong. Sure it takes a few hours of your time, but once you get the hang of spreading the masa and folding the husks, they are quite easy to make. Tamales freeze very nicely too, so you could easily double or triple this recipe and have tamales to last you for quite some time, which makes the effort and the few hours of your day, a time saver in the long run. Simply let them cool completely, then wrap tightly with saran wrap or place in freezer bags and freeze them until you need them. Then just thaw, heat and serve.

You will need a few tools for this recipe: a small metal spreader (as in the picture below (or something similar), steamer basket or steam insert and one large stock pot.

Makes: about 3 dozen tamales
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 45-60 minutes per batch, about one and a half to two hours total cooking time

Note: There are a several elements in the filling which all take their own individual cooking time. If you cooked one item at a time, this recipe would take you twice as long. The trick is to get all the filling ingredients cooking at the same time, starting with the longest cooking item first, that way they will all finish about the same time. You can even cook your chicken and peppers the night before if you like. Also, before you start the masa or filling, you will want to start soaking your corn husks.

To soak your husks:
Take the desired amount of husks (at least 4 dozen) place in a large bowl and cover with warm water. Place a heavy object like a bowl or coffee mug on top to keep the husks from floating to the top. Let soak for at least a half an hour and up to one hour. It is always good to have more husks than too little, you will often find that not all of them will be useable and, or some might tear in the process. I usually add an extra dozen. When ready to use, drain water, shake out husks and wrap in a towel to keep them from drying out; pat each husk dry before using.

Ingredients for the Dough:

5 cups masa

5 -6 cups chicken broth – hot

1 15 oz can creamed corn

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin

To make dough: Heat the broth in microwaveable bowl or measuring cup for 3 minutes until warm. In a large bowl combine masa, seasonings, corn and 4 ½ cups broth together. Then add more broth a quarter cup at a time and stirring until the dough becomes the consistency of peanut butter.

Ingredients for Filling:

3 chicken breasts boiled and shredded

2 pablano or pasilla peppers – roasted and chopped

1 10 oz package Queso Fresco cheese – crumbled

1 tbs lime juice

1 large onion chopped and sautéed

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cumin

About 4 dozen corn husks – soaked for one hour in warm water

To make the filling:
To cook peppers: Pre-heat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with oil or cooking spray. Cook until skins are brown and bubbly on both sides, turning if needed. About 25 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover, allowing to steam for 10 minutes. Once cool enough to touch, peel pepper, discard seeds and stems and chop into small, even pieces. Place into a bowl large enough to fit other filling ingredients and set aside.
To cook chicken: place chicken breasts in a pot with boiling water, season with salt, pepper and a few dashes of cumin. Cook until done about 10-12 minutes. Remove from water, place in a bowl and cover, let rest until cool enough to handle.
To cook the onion: finely chop and sauté in about a tablespoon oil or butter. Cook until caramelized and tender (deep golden grown) about 15-20 minutes.
When chicken, onions and peppers are done, place all into a large bowl. Crumble the entire package of queso fresco into the bowl, season with salt and pepper and ½ tsp of cumin. Blend all ingredients together with hands; set aside.

To Assemble the Tamales:
1.Remove the corn husks from their bath, shake the excess water from them and wrap them in a towel to keep them from drying out again. If they do, simply place them back in the water until they are pliable again. Make sure as you use the husks that you wipe off any excess water before you spread the masa, otherwise it will not spread very well.
2.Depending on the size of the husks take a large dollop of masa 1-3 tbs – I just eyeball it. If it seems like too little or too much, simply add or take away as needed. Spread the masa down the center of the husk leaving about an inch or two from the bottom of the husk and spreading almost up to the edge of the top portion of the husk.

3.Next place a large pinch of filling in the center of the masa. Again the amount you add will depend on the size of the husks and also how much filling you like, it will usually average 1-2 tbs per tamale.

4.Then fold up the bottom part of the husk, then take one side of the husk and pull it tightly over the filling and masa, then roll up the husk the rest of the way and place seam side down on a cookie sheet or plate.

To Cook:
Fill your pot with enough water to where it sits just under the steamer basket. The water should not be touching the basket. You can add more water as needed during the cooking process. Depending on the depth of your pot, place the tamales vertically or sideways (seam side down) in the basket. If stacking on their sides, make sure to put the largest ones on the bottom. The lid should be able to fit securely on the pot, if not, remove enough tamales until it does. This recipe should make about two batches.

Place the lid on your pot, turn the burner on high, bring the water to a boil, and then reduce to med-high. Once the tamales have been cooking for about a half an hour, take a tamale, open it up and test the masa, it should be slightly translucent but starting to firm up. Add up to another cup of water to the pot and continue to cook, checking every five minutes or so until they reach the desired doneness; they should be firm but creamy. Generally takes about 45-60 minutes, but this might vary depending on your stove top, the size of pot you use and how firm you like your masa. A good way to test for the doneness is pick a tamale and use that as your tester throughout the cooking process. When this one is done, the rest should be too. Keep in mind, the masa will also firm up a little more once the tamales cool too.

Let tamales cool for about five minutes before eating. Remove from wrapper and serve with salsa, sour cream and cilantro if desired.

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