Holiday Hot Tamales!
By Dennis Linden
No time during the busy holiday season to take a whole day to make that traditional batch of tamales? Or perhaps you have never tried because these little packets of masa flour wrapped around usually a chicken or pork filling have a tedious prep reputation? Try this easy recipe, submitted by Denise Ramirez in Melissa’s Procurement Department, using the company’s convenient Tamale Kit that includes a package of pre-moistened, no waste, corn husks and a just-add-liquid masa mix!
“My mom & grandma have always made tamales during the holidays,” explained Denise. “To be honest, my contribution to this tradition has usually been enjoying the delicious results rather than that process! However it was not that difficult with the kit, which I enhanced with a few fresh ingredients and some flavor additives from Melissa’s pantry of Latin seasonings.”
While the instructions on our Tamale Kit’s packaging is a great step-by-step primer on tamale construction 101, the wide range of filling ingredients are a matter of taste and tradition that we leave up to the individual. Denise starts with cooked and shredded chicken breasts that she then sautés in a large pan with fresh tomatillos, a fresh green chile and white onion, all laced with a choice of either Melissa’s Pico de Gallo seasoning or Green Hatch Chile powder. A very simple, very deliciosa combination! This filling can be spicy hot or mild depending upon the variety of fresh chile pepper selected and the amount of the seasonings added. Though Denise uses shredded chicken, her ingredients would also pair deliciously with pork, which is the other traditional meat used in tamales. Actually, tamale fillings can range from dessert sweetness to savory, so don’t be afraid to experiment; in fact, tamales are a great way to repurpose leftovers of just about any meal! With Melissa’s ready-mixed masa, those spur-of-the-moment tamale cravings are in reach in minutes!
Denise does add a few flavor tweaks to the basic masa mix instruction on our package. The key to a tastier tamale is paying as much attention to the dough as the filling. By adding cumin to the masa mix and then substituting two cups of chicken stock for the water, Denise really upgrades the take-away flavor profile of the dish that is immediately apparent with the first taste! Again, while the cumin pairs wonderfully with Denise’s filling, do not be afraid to experiment with different herbs and spices in your dough, varying them according to your personal preferences or to complement the flavors in whatever filling is used. Try, for example, a couple of tablespoons of Melissa’s dried Epazote for a stronger, rustic flavor. By topping off the taste experience with Melissa’s scrumptious Hatch Salsa, Denise accents each bite with a pleasantly spicy kick that complements rather than overshadows the filling. The only other flavor I would add to this wonderfully tasty dish is a cold cerveza!
The ancient Aztec culture is credited with coming up with the first packet of masa meal. It was the Aztec version of the military K-ration; invented to replace their cumbersome battlefield kitchen. It seems that Aztec armies were in the habit of bringing some of their womenfolk along on battle campaigns to cook up that culture’s staple foodstuff, masa (corn) meal. Apparently macho Aztec warriors felt cooking was women’s work. Anyway, making masa meal was and still is a real pain that included a time-consuming treatment with limestone powder--a process that proved impractical to pull off under battlefield conditions. So they [the women, I suppose] came up with the idea of preparing the masa at home, then wrapping it in a corn husk to be heated up later or eaten cold on the run. That early army-issued tamale of masa and a little dried meat has evolved over the centuries into many delectable variations that are found in both Mexican and South American cuisines today.
Denise Ramirez has been a member of the Melissa’s staff for six years. Her daily responsibilities as a member of our Procurement Team is wide-ranging; she buys and sells fresh produce to other wholesale companies, co-ordinates product and shipping from our off-site warehouse partners around the country and, as she sums it up, “I do whatever is needed to help the business grow and prosper.”
Since moving to Southern California from Texas, her family (husband & son) enjoy going to Disneyland, sporting events, concerts (huge Foo Fighter fans) as well as her 14-year-old’s water polo practices and games. Not surprisingly and, in sync with this writer’s own allegiances, the entire Ramirez family are avid Dallas Cowboy football fans! You can take the woman out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the woman! So thanks for sharing your holiday tamale recipe, Denise and how ‘bout those Cowboys!
Shredded Chicken Tamales & Hatch Salsa
1 Melissa’s Tamale Kit
2 cups Chicken Stock
3 TBS ground Cumin
2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, cooked & shredded (about 1 pound)
1 Green Chile Pepper, fine diced (like Anaheim or Pasilla)
½ large Perfect Sweet Onion, fine diced
½ cup Tomatillos, husked, rinsed and fine diced
2 TBS Melissa’s Pico de Gallo seasoning (option – Green Hatch Chile Powder)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Melissa’s Hatch Chile Salsa (garnish)
Dough: In a large bowl, blend the cumin into the masa flour mix from the kit, then whisk in the chicken stock. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until a thick paste forms.
Filling: Once the chicken breasts have been boiled, cooled and shredded, combine in a large pan with the chile pepper, onion, tomatillos and seasonings, then sauté over medium heat until mixture is aromatic and all the liquid has be absorbed.
Follow the directions on Melissa’s package to construct each tamale using the convenient ready-to-use pre-moistened husks.
Arrange the tamales upright in a large covered pot and steam them for about an hour or until the masa is firm to the touch.
Serve the tamales with a generous topping of Melissa’s Hatch Chile Salsa.