A couple of weeks before Christmas, I found myself facing a luncheon for 15 foodie friends for which I'd promised fresh tamales--and my promised helper, the only person I knew who had made them before, came down with the flu! I was on my own.
Fortunately, I had Tamales 101 in hand. Got a few tips from a guy at the local Tamale Festival, but mostly I just devoured this book, took a deep breath, and started. My masa floated, the corn husks peeled off my tamales easily, and they were firm and delicious! I spent over three days cooking and ended up with a cornucopia of Red Chile Pork, Chorizo-Potato, Jalapeno and Cheese, and two kinds of dessert tamales, plus all the salsa and other trimmings. (I'd made enough to take to three other events, it turned out.) And I *enjoyed* myself doing it.
Making tamales is both harder and easier than you might think. What's hard is the amount of time and effort, but what's easy is the routine you get into after making a few. The day of the luncheon, I taught an early guest how to fill and fold them (using the very easy foldover method illustrated in the book), and she taught everyone else who wanted to try a few. As they say, a good time was had by all.
My tips and observations for those who want to give this a try:
Get *very* organized in advance: ingredients list, timetable, list of accompaniments, etc. A large steamer is a must (I used an oriental two-level steel one, but a Mexican one that looks like a canning kettle works well, too, and both are fairly inexpensive). An electric mixer is also a must. I used a hand mixer, but a stand mixer would have been easier. You *must* maintain several inches of boiling water in the pan (I just about burned mine out at one point), and it is possible to burn both hands at once if you use potholders instead of oven mitts to pick up the upper pan to check the water level.
From the festival tamale maker, I learned that it's important to use all the lard called for (part can be butter or margarine) and also all the salt called for. I read somewhere else that much of the lard is absorbed by the husks, and I hope this is true. From the book, I learned to use fresh masa (easily available here in the southwest) rather than dry, and to whip the lard for at least 5 minutes and then the worked-in masa and broth for another 10 to 15 minutes, and also to use an ice cream scoop to measure the right amount of masa onto the husks/leaves.
I won't be waiting until next Christmas to make more tamales, now that I know how easy and good they are. Just thinking of all the varieties in Tamales 101 that I haven't tried yet has me drooling. Give it a try!